By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
GOVERNOR General Sir Cornelius A Smith has declared another state of emergency for the country, citing low vaccination numbers and the third wave of COVID-19 cases in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
The proclamation, released to the media yesterday, took effect on Friday and gives the competent authority another six months of emergency powers.
It suggests the Minnis administration wants to manage the COVID-19 pandemic the way it has since March of last year rather than implement a new statutory framework as critics and members of the opposition have called for.
The proclamation says: “Despite the fact that a national vaccination distribution programme is in progress, there remains a comparatively low percentage of fully vaccinated persons in The Bahamas. And whereas there is a third wave of infections on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama which continues to cause illness and death in The Bahamas. And whereas according to scientific and medical advice, COVID-19 is likely to persist as a pandemic in The Bahamas, for the foreseeable future.”
The Bahamas recorded 61 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 51 on New Providence – the kind of numbers that recall the early stages of the second wave in July. Fifty new cases were recorded on Saturday.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths has also spiked in recent weeks and now stands at 220. Forty-three people are currently hospitalised with the virus, six of them in the intensive care unit.
Attorney General Carl Bethel told reporters last month that officials were working on legislation that would allow the government to respond to the COVID-19 situation on a needs basis as opposed to declaring a state of emergency.
It is not clear why the government has not chosen that option.
Although the Governor General’s role is largely ceremonial, when asked about the matter yesterday, Mr Bethel said: “The emergency continues. The threat of mutant variants and pervasive vaccine hesitancy inhibit The Bahamas from dropping its guard at this stage. That is my view. Of course, the view that counts is that of the Governor General and I believe that he has cited the third wave of infections and low vaccination rates as being factors that he considered.”
In a statement yesterday, Progressive Liberal Party leader Philip “Brave” Davis said his party supports measures supported by science but cannot support the “continued suspension of civil liberties”.
“With the Prime Minister’s own Attorney General acknowledging that necessary health measures could be enacted via ordinary legislation, Bahamians understand that any move to extend the emergency powers has more to do with the state of Hubert Minnis’ political health than with the state of public health.
“This isn’t complicated. Minnis is scared. He does not want to debate COVID measures in Parliament, he wants to act without having to defend his decision-making. He is worried that he cannot point to science or common sense to justify the restrictions on the public. He certainly does not want scrutiny of how, and with whom, he has spent pandemic funds.”
Mr Davis said the country is facing a shortage of nurses and that the government has not sourced vaccines aggressively enough, pointing to numbers that lag others in the region.
He said: “One example: Barbados, with a much smaller population, has administered 75,000 vaccinations – the Bahamas, only 36,000.
“…This government does everything possible to make herd immunity unobtainable, then tells us until it’s achieved, they’ll keep their emergency powers and hide the details of their pandemic spending.”
The previous state of emergency was set to expire on May 23.