By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government has relaxed restrictions on social gatherings, indoor dining and churches in response to the continued decline of COVID-19 cases.
The new measures were outlined in a statement released from the Ministry of Health and Wellness and came into effect yesterday based on recommendations made by the advisory committee.
The statement said church services in New Providence and Grand Bahama can now have a maximum seating capacity of 50 percent as opposed to the previous 25 percent occupancy limit.
Weddings and funeral services may also be held in a religious facility provided that all guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health are followed. A casket or urn can also be present during funeral services, the ministry added.
For social gatherings, people may attend or host events indoors at a private residence with no more than 40 persons who are either fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID test.
The same rule applies for gatherings held outdoors where up to 100 people are now allowed to attend.
However, the ministry has warned that large events still remain prohibited at this time.
“Anyone who hosts or attends a social gathering contrary to the above rules commits an offence and is liable upon summary conviction in the case of a host, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 and to a fine not exceeding $300 for each person in attendance, and in the case of an attendee, to a fine not exceeding $300,” the statement added.
The rule also said that restaurants can operate indoors with a seating capacity of 75 percent provided that all customers are either fully vaccinated or have a negative COVID test.
“Masks are worn by patrons when dining, at all times except when eating or drinking,” the ministry added.
Meanwhile, as it relates to travel, anyone entering The Bahamas or travelling to another island from Grand Bahama or New Providence is required to undergo a rapid antigen test on the fifth day upon arrival.
The rules also said, “Anyone who is out to sea on the second day of his stay is required to undergo a rapid antigen test at the first port of call thereafter and submit the result to the Ministry of Health and Wellness via its travel health website.”
In the event where tests are positive, people are asked to take an RT-PCR test and submit to mandatory isolation in accordance with the rules.
Failure to comply with these rules can result in a fine of up to $1,000 or a one-month prison sentence.
Indoor group exercises are also permitted with no more than 30 people.
The easing of restrictions comes as COVID-19 cases continue to trend downwards in the country – with just 28 new cases recorded between Friday and Saturday, pushing the overall tally to 33,052 since the start of the pandemic.
Two additional deaths that were previously under investigation were also confirmed as COVID related over the weekend, pushing the nation’s tally to 770. Meanwhile, 42 people are still in hospital with the virus.
Yesterday, the ministry attributed the nation’s improving COVID situation to the public’s adherence to health and safety protocols and the government’s comprehensive strategy to combat COVID-19.
The ministry also noted the many initiatives it implemented during the nation’s fourth wave.
“(We) introduced free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic residents in New Providence and Grand Bahama,” the statement said, “expanded the locations and methodologies to improve the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, implemented a national distribution programme of the medical-grade masks to the community in partnership with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and NGOs (and) entered into purchase agreements for new pharmaceutical treatments for persons infected with COVID-19.
The ministry also said it revised isolation and quarantine rules to reflect the science written on the behaviour of the virus.
“It is noted that as the situation improves, the public can expect more revisions to remove or relax restrictions,” the statement continued.
“However, the public is reminded that the relaxation of certain restrictions could be tightened if the picture of the pandemic worsens to reduce the further spread of COVID-19 and prevent risking injury to the economy.”
In the meantime, Bahamians are encouraged to get vaccinated or receive their booster shot to safeguard themselves against the threat of the COVID-19.
According to the government’s latest vaccine tracker, more than 160,000 people are fully vaccinated to date.