By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
and EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Ministry of Health and Wellness announced further relaxations to COVID-19 restrictions over the weekend, loosening mask requirements for those in hotels or outdoors and adjusting protocols for social gatherings, allowing larger events to take place.
The ministry said it was cautiously optimistic about the progress in the fight against COVID-19.
When contacted for comment yesterday, Free National Movement Chairman and former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands called the new relaxations on face masks “glaringly discriminatory”.
Regarding masking requirements, a person is not required to wear a face mask while in a lobby, corridor or casino of a hotel or while in an outdoor setting where there is at least three feet of space between persons who are not of the same household.
Disabled persons or people with specified medical conditions are not required to wear a mask provided they have in their possession a medical certificate or letter signed by a medical practitioner proving the existence of such disability or medical condition.
The ministry reminded members of the public to wear a face mask while away from his or her residence and in the company of people who are not members of their household. The mask should fit securely to the face of the wearer, ensuring that both nose and mouth are covered at all times.
Dr Sands said he thinks that Bahamians will wonder if there is such a distinct difference in the management of COVID in hotel lobbies and casinos compared to ordinary Bahamian businesses.
“There may be or they may cite differences in vaccination rates and so on and so forth, but you know give Bahamians the courtesy of at least sharing with them the basis of your decision making,” Dr Sands said. “Show some respect for the intellect of Bahamians as opposed to something that was glaringly discriminatory.”
He added: “We note with interest the changes that have been made. We find it very interesting that the virus behaves differently in hotels and casinos than they do in Bahamian businesses, but most importantly we have been asking for the data that undergirds these decisions and to date they have not been forthcoming. So while we hope and wish the best for Bahamians we do not know on what basis these decisions were made.”
The Ministry of Health has also adjusted requirements for social gatherings.
A person may host or attend a social gathering indoors at a private residence or a facility provided that attendance is limited to 75 percent of the occupancy of the private residence or facility. All attendees must either be fully vaccinated or present a valid negative COVID-19 test and adhere to COVID-19 protocols.
A person may host or attend a social gathering held outdoors with not more than 300 people provided that all attendees must either be fully vaccinated or present a negative test and adhere to protocols.
Concerts, parties, carnivals, fairs, Junkanoo or carnival parades inclusive of practice rallies require approval of the Emergency Operations Committee of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Consultant Physicians Staff Association urged members of the public to continue mask wearing in public spaces especially where there is a mixture of people not from the same household and the probability of touching high contact surfaces is present.
CPSA Secretary General Dr Shakera Carroll, however, told The Tribune that overall, the newly announced COVID-19 relaxations are “doable”, noting decreasing case numbers and hospitalisations.
She said it was expected that the ministry would continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly in the event of a resurgence.
“I do think it’s doable because again we’ve had decreasing numbers of cases, decreasing numbers of hospitalisations and so the aim globally is to see how restrictions can be relaxed while at the same time monitoring for the effectiveness of those reductions in restrictions and making sure that the public is not adversely affected by that in terms of resurgences of cases,” Dr Carroll said.
“So, it’ll be expected that the Ministry of Health has continued to monitor the situation with the changes in restrictions and to either further relax or revise those relaxations should there be a rise in cases as a result.”
Regarding masking, she said: “The concern with mask wearing I would say that being the first defence it should be something that is continued throughout in public spaces especially … persons who aren’t in the same household and especially in areas where there are potentially high touch contact surfaces. Persons may inadvertently sneeze or cough into their hands and sometimes people do those things unconsciously and that can increase the risk of spread regardless of the fact that the omicron variant has thankfully been much milder than the other variants.”
She said while there is excitement that restrictions have been relaxed, safety protocols like hand washing and social distancing must continue.
The Ministry of Health has also said social distancing protocols remain in place. There should be no less than three feet between each person not of the same household whenever they are away from their residence.
Businesses must also ensure the same is maintained and have to determine the number of people permitted at any one time.
This comes as daily COVID-19 case counts remain low, with three new cases recorded on Friday.