By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas Nurses Union has suggested the government put an end to the state of emergency, which is set to expire on May 23, saying The Bahamas must learn to coexist with the COVID virus.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, BNU General Secretary Sheniqua Cox said while the union believes the nation should have some sort of legal framework in place to enforce current health measures, Bahamians must also be able to make their own decisions relating to their health.
Saying the current emergency order and associated protocols did not stop the country from experiencing a second or third wave, Ms Cox stressed it’s now time for the government to focus on other preventative strategies aimed at keeping virus cases low.
Key among them includes a robust vaccination campaign and a comprehensive public education campaign centred on the COVID-19 prevention initiatives, she said.
“We were in this pandemic for over a year, so how long is this government going to take away our decisions on protecting ourselves? We need to now educate our public on the importance of the health guidelines, national regulations and guidelines on COVID-19 such as wearing masks, such as social distancing and such as crowd control and sanitisation,” she told The Tribune.
“We need to have these national guidelines in effect, straight across the board, so when you go to any island across The Bahamas, this is what is accepted. Also, we now have vaccines. They have to educate the public on the importance of getting vaccines and once they are educated, they become better equipped to make their own informed decisions.”
She added: “As I always hear (attorney) Wayne Munroe say, does COVID go away at 10pm? Our nurses work around the clock 24 hours a day. COVID is still out there from after 10pm so what has being on a curfew from 10pm done for us? We’re experiencing a third wave even though we’re under curfew at 10pm. You have to give people freedom in terms of health and making their own decisions.”
The BNU official also said those who choose not to follow the health measures should have to face the consequences, noting the importance of law enforcement.
“That’s why we have COVID teams and teams to go around to ensure that there are establishments adhering to these guidelines and if an establishment is not adhering to the guidelines, then you close down that particular establishment.
“You can’t just punish everybody for that one person not adhering so that’s why I say we need national rules on how to govern ourselves,” Ms Cox continued. “We have to learn how to cope with this (virus). We have to learn how to make informed decisions for ourselves and loved ones. There’s no way around this but education and advising and teaching people how to live with this.”
The country has been under a state of emergency since March 2020. During the first wave of the pandemic, cases and deaths were relatively low — with just over 100 confirmed cases at the beginning of July 2020 and 11 deaths.
Those numbers, however, surged in early July 2020 after the country re-opened its borders, ushering in a second wave of infections.
In April, health officials confirmed The Bahamas had entered its third wave of infections after more than 1,100 new cases were reported for that month alone.
On Sunday, total cases in the country rose to 10,908 after 46 new cases were recorded. Of the total figure, 764 of those cases are active. Meanwhile, there have been 214 virus related deaths confirmed.
On Friday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said officials have not decided whether to extend the country’s state of emergency when it expires May 23.
He told reporters that his administration will make a decision on the matter following discussions with physicians.
Last month, Attorney General Carl Bethel confirmed that whether a new statutory framework is implemented, or the state of emergency is extended, “there will be some legal framework” to restrict physical contact until the country obtains herd immunity.
Yesterday, Ms Cox said to her knowledge, no one has contacted the union on the way forward. However, she acknowledged that the union believes implementing new legislation to replace current emergency orders is the more “ feasible” approach.
For his part, Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said the opposition party will not support another extension of the emergency orders.
“We are well documented on record in saying that a constant state of emergency is unhealthy for the economy, is unhealthy for the psyche of our people and unhealthy for industry, particularly tourism. We advise the government to really amend the necessary legislation that’s already on the books so that we can move to a state of a new normal,” Mr Cooper told The Tribune.