By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the country has sparked a reimplementation of harsher restrictions in New Providence and Grand Bahama along with North and Central Eleuthera, Health Minister Reward Wells announced Friday.
The restrictions include tighter curfew hours, social limitations and travel guidelines.
The tightened restrictions came as the country recorded 110 additional cases and one more virus-related death on Thursday.
Additionally, on Wednesday, officials said there were five deaths, which took place on July 18, 19, and 20. Three of the deaths were New Providence residents, one was from Bimini and the other was from Exuma.
These latest fatalities mean 280 people have now died from the virus.
Meanwhile, the country has 13,957 cases overall – 1,351 of which are still active.
Ninety-two people are in hospital sick with the virus as of July 22.
During a Ministry of Health press conference Friday, Mr Wells lamented the uptick in both virus-related cases, hospitalisations and deaths as "concerning", saying the influx of infections has placed a great strain on the nation’s healthcare system.
Noting that COVID-19 preventative measures are meant to protect and not harm us, Mr Wells announced the reimposition of a number of former restrictions, which he said came based on the recommendations of health officials.
Beginning Monday at 5am, Mr Wells said the curfew on New Providence, Grand Bahama, North and South Eleuthera – including Harbour Island – will go back to 10pm to 5am.
Individuals travelling from those islands are also required to undergo a RT-PCR test. However, the rule will not apply to fully vaccinated people.
On New Providence and Grand Bahama, church services will be limited to one hour and only allowed at 33 percent capacity.
Funeral or cremation services are not allowed but graveside services will be permitted with a maximum of 30 people. This excludes the officiant and funeral workers at those services. No funeral repasts are permitted, however.
Weddings are allowed indoors and outdoors, but not exceeding 30 people.
Mr Wells added: “As regards to restaurants, dining is restricted to outdoor and takeaways services, and it is encouraged that there be no loitering of groups outside restaurants or at fish fries. These restrictions, however, do not apply to hotel properties.”
“No spas will be opened. This includes massages, waxing, threading and facials. For all islands of The Bahamas, private gatherings will be restricted to five persons provided that the individuals are vaccinated.”
Mr Wells also announced limitations for campaigning activities, saying all team members must be fully vaccinated and are limited to groups of five.
“I know you have COVID fatigue,” Mr Wells told Bahamians. “You are tired of wearing a mask, not hugging a close family member or friend and staying home to prevent contracting the virus. However, we must remain disciplined. This global pandemic is not over as cases continue to rise globally and nationally.”
Mr Wells said proof that the pandemic is far from over can be seen in the rise of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations.
According to the health minister, hospital admissions in this third wave have been notably higher than what was seen in previous waves. He reiterated that most people in hospital have not been fully vaccinated against the virus.
He also renewed appeals for people to collect stored bodies at Princess Margaret Hospital’s morgue, saying the facility has reached beyond its capacity.
“The Rand Laboratory commonly referred to as ‘the morgue’ at PMH can house some 73 deceased persons,” Mr Wells said at Friday’s press conference. “However, today it holds 225 bodies. That is three times its capacity. Although two refrigerated containers are holding demised bodies outside the morgue, PMH no longer has space.”
“…The public is advised that if the deceased bodies are not claimed promptly, the Government reserves the right to take legal action to remove and intern the unclaimed bodies to provide space for those who have recently passed away,” he added.
Meanwhile, for her part, Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan called for a stricter adherence to public health measures and warned that giving recommendations for full COVID-19 lockdowns are not off the table.
“Certainly, we deliberate every week where we are and full lockdowns are always a consideration of recommendation if we believe that will be the way and the only way to get our hands around what we are in but there are also considerations around full lockdowns as it relates to where our country is,” Dr McMillan said. “But we monitor these things on a daily basis and we have ad hoc EOCs and should that be necessary we will make further recommendations if that means a lockdown, we will have to do it.”
However, it is not clear if the recent spike of cases will cause government officials to reconsider extending the emergency orders which are set to end August 13.
Asked if health officials recommend the government to extend it, Dr McMillan said: “Should the EOC be tasked with that consideration we will make an appropriate recommendation.”