By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis last night defended his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis - and announced that Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis will chair a consultative committee to advise the Ministry of Health on a vaccination plan.
In a speech highlighting plans and touting how the government has handled the COVID-19 crisis, Dr Minnis said the committee “will report at the appropriate time on the rollout of a vaccine in The Bahamas”.
Some on social media criticised the address, however, noting the nation’s leader said nothing specific about when COVID-19 restrictions will be further relaxed or the way forward in the pandemic.
While telling a story about a grandmother who said she cannot wait for the pandemic to be over, Dr Minnis also said COVID-19 “restrictions will end” at some point, but did not elaborate.
“Thankfully, because there are now successful vaccines for COVID-19, our country, and our economy, are set to reopen more fully in the months ahead,” he said.
“I say to that grandmother, and to all Bahamians: The end is in sight! Restrictions will end! We will get back to our way of life! Jobs and the economy are coming back!
“Last month, some hotel workers returned to their jobs. But we still have a few more months to go, especially as the pandemic continues to rage, in countries all around us.”
Dr Minnis cautioned that the crisis is not over.
“It is possible that cases will rise again before vaccines arrive,” he said. “If this happens, as a government and people, we will have to return to some of the measures that worked to beat back previous waves.
“Through our experience during the pandemic year, we now know the formula that works. Tough times do not scare us. Difficult circumstances do not break our resolve.”
Dr Minnis said $177 million was spent through the end of October 2020 in response to COVID-19.
“To help support businesses and workers, we offered $44.4 million in tax credit/tax deferrals which funded the payrolls for nearly 7,000 private sector employees.
“To protect nearly 4,500 jobs in the small business sector, $47.3 million was made available for small business grants and continuity loans, through the Access Accelerator Small Business Development Centre.
“The government provided $45.5 million in unemployment support, administered by the National Insurance Board. This included the extension of NIB’s existing benefit programmes, as well as support for Bahamians in the hospitality sector and self-employed individuals. This has been the largest distribution of unemployment benefits in Bahamian history.”
Dr Minnis said between March and October 2020, $17.2 million was spent on food support, providing food for about 100,000 people.
He added that in New Providence, $9 million has been spent improving Princess Margaret Hospital and areas of Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre while in Grand Bahama, $21 million has been allocated for a phased redevelopment of Rand Memorial Hospital.
Dr Minnis said the government is in the process of buying 5,000 tablets for students in junior high schools.
“All students and teachers on the Family Island communities were provided with devices for the new school year: Mayaguana, Inagua, Acklins, Crooked Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay, Cat Island, and on Andros, for the communities of Congo Town and Mangrove Cay.”