By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel has defended the government’s decision to seek an extension of the COVID-19 emergency orders until May 23, saying the move was done “out of an abundance of caution” in response to new coronavirus variants now spreading worldwide.
Mr Bethel said when the government has begun the process of mass vaccination, then it will be “reasonable and justifiable” to reduce or eliminate the emergency orders.
Pointing to several COVID-19 variants detected abroad, Senator Bethel said public adherence of the health measures has become even more necessary.
“They are said to be highly contagious, at least 70 percent more contagious than the first coronavirus which by itself is very contagious. So, it’s out of an abundance of caution,” Senator Bethel said before a Cabinet meeting.
“So, I suppose one can say that it’s necessary that we not let our guard down and we do anticipate that over this period that we will have access to vaccines. We’ll begin the process of vaccinations according to the medical advice.”
He added: “…We know that the discipline of the emergency orders has brought us this far and has kept our numbers relatively low. We have not had the kind of uncontrolled surges that you see going on in Europe right now and in parts of Africa, particularly South Africa and Zimbabwe, etc.
“So, it is a difficult thing for all of us to have these restrictions on movement and the mandates of masks and social distancing but at the end of the day, we have to understand that these disciplines have brought us this far – that and faith have brought us this far.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the government’s intention to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency and associated emergency orders until May 23.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, Dr Minnis said while the country is doing well in its fight against COVID-19, Bahamians have appeared to let their guards down - pointing to funerals and Junkanoo parades that have defied protocols.
“I want to remind the public that we should all be vigilant because it only takes one individual to become infected and the virus can have catastrophic and devastating affects on our society placing us in a similar position as seen in the north,” Dr Minnis said.
The country has been under a state of emergency since March 2020, with the current order set to end on January 31.
As of Monday, COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas stood at 8,140 after seven new infections were reported by health officials.
Yesterday, Mr Bethel urged Bahamians to be patient for a little while longer until The Bahamas secures a COVID-19 vaccine – which is expected to be in the country in the first quarter of this year.
He said: “We only have a little more ways to go before we can begin the process of mass vaccination, hopefully. When that is done, then it will be possible, it will be reasonable and justifiable to further reduce and perhaps even eliminate the emergency orders.
“But, let us get to that stage where Bahamians are protected. That is all the government is seeking to do, to maintain discipline to the best of my understanding, until such time we can vaccinate a substantial population of The Bahamas – particularly, the elderly, the infirm, the frontline workers and teachers.”
This also comes amid calls for more restrictions to be eased, especially as it relates to COVID-19 curfew hours on certain islands.
Pressed on the matter yesterday, Health Minister Reward Wells replied: “Stay tuned.”
“Stay tuned to the Prime Minister’s deliverance in the House of Assembly (today). The Prime Minister will speak to those issues as you know we would be debating the resolution in the House so it’s going to be an opportunity to air all of the issues.
“The Bahamian people should pay attention to the Prime Minister (as he) moves the resolution as he always does. I will second that resolution and other members in the House of Assembly.”
Asked if Bahamians can expect to see additional changes, he replied: “Change is here.”