PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis speaking yesterday. Photo: Donovan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis urged people to avoid large gatherings this holiday weekend, saying not doing so could set the country back as health officials warn of a possible third wave of COVID-19.
Asked about a possible third wave on Grand Bahama, Dr Minnis said this could be averted if there is effective contact tracing, isolation exercises and accelerated vaccinations on that island.
He spoke on the matter after 33,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the country yesterday and after Dr Nikkiah Forbes, a local infectious disease expert, said Grand Bahama appears to be in the early stages of a third wave of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Dr Minnis did not rule out introducing new restrictions for that island but said health officials will analyse data they collect and advise him on what to do.
“I think we have a very efficient and effective medical staff assisted by our PAHO representative and they have monitored the situation and both I and they are convinced that once we aggressively continue our contract tracing, aggressively isolate those who are infected and aggressively vaccinate the population as much as possible, I think we can avert that,” he said.
Some observers have questioned if the government will enforce stricter measures on Grand Bahama, New Providence and other islands in view of the spike in cases.
Asked about this in relation to Grand Bahama, Dr Minnis said: “Your other question was whether I would introduce any curfews, any stringent measures, I am advised by the health professionals and they would do their data collection, they will do their analysis and they are guided by the science and they would advise me as to the way forward. What I can tell you at this point in time, this is Easter and Bahamians love beaches.
“We do not want to discourage (people) from going on the beach but I would encourage them to avoid the large mass gatherings that I’ve seen just recently and I’ve seen in the press, as that simple gathering can cause our entire country and economy to go into a tailspin and backward from whence we came, especially at a time that we’re now growing, and I would advise that for those that are in groupings, allow that group to be only household members, family members, do not allow strangers or those who you don’t know within that grouping.”
During his address, Dr Minnis noted that Grand Bahama and Eleuthera have seen an increase in cases.
“At this time, health officials are managing outbreaks in Eleuthera and Grand Bahama,” he said. “The vaccination programme will be accelerated to address the increase in cases.”
Dr Minnis urged Bahamians to follow social distancing protocols, especially during the upcoming Easter holiday period.
“Easter weekend is traditionally a time of family gatherings and fellowship, including beach picnics. But we are still in the midst of the pandemic. These are not normal times. The COVID-19 case numbers in the Bahamas and around the world make it clear that the pandemic is not over,” he said.
He noted that groups at beaches and parks are, by law, still limited to five on New Providence and Grand Bahama.
“Large gatherings over this weekend could set the country back,” he said. “If we continue to exercise discipline for a little longer we will reap the benefits.”
Dr Minnis was asked to respond to critics who note that his call for small gatherings and groupings come as political groups continue to congregate and campaign.
He said: “You would’ve seen them still spacing out somewhat and each and everyone, regardless of the political organisation, each and everyone was wearing a mask.”
Despite his comments, people campaigning with political parties have not always strictly adhered to COVID-19 protocols.
Some people at both Free National Movement and Progressive Liberal Party events have clearly congregated less than six feet apart.
During a PLP ratification event this month, hundreds assembled and were at times tightly bunched together with many not wearing masks.