By E.J. Rolle
Prime Minister, the Most Honorable Dr. Hubert Minnis, during a National Address on The Bahamas’ response to Covid-19 on Sunday night revealed government’s strategy to prevent widespread outbreak of the Novel coronavirus in the country.
“Out of an abundance of caution, all national sporting events will be postponed until further notice,” Dr. Minnis said. “There is an indefinite suspension of all permits for use of public, open spaces.”
Additionally, all schools will be closed immediately until April 14, 2020.
These pronouncements came as The Bahamas reported its first confirmed case of the virus on Sunday afternoon, during a press conference by the Ministry of Health. A 61-year-old woman in Nassau was confirmed to have contracted the virus and has been quarantined.
The ministry has also began to interview her family members and other people she may have come in contact with over the past few days.
“We have been monitoring this crisis on a daily basis over the past many weeks, which includes monitoring developments in our region and in our North American neighbors,” said Prime Minister Minnis.
The Prime Minister said that he chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting to coordinate the next steps in the country’s national response. He said that as prime minister and as a medical doctor, the health, safety and wellbeing of the Bahamian people are his greatest priority.
During his address, the prime minister outlined some of the measures his government will be taking to address the country’s response to the introduction of this virus into The Bahamas. Such measures include health and medical measures, economic, financial and other aspects of the crisis.
Other measures which the government will be taking to respond to COVID-19 include the execution of a national preparedness and response plan by the Ministry of Health.
“We have conducted training for health care providers on proper screening, use of protective equipment and COVID-19 protocols and have secured adequate supplies of hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies and protective equipment,” said Dr. Minnis.
“Businesses should continue to institute measures to protect the health of workers and consumers.”
The Prime Minister noted that the continued spread of COVID-19 to countries around the world will have a negative impact on the Bahamian economy.
“We are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Dorian and this coronavirus crisis represents yet another risk to our economy and the country’s finances and fiscal sustainability plans,” said Dr. Minnis.
“This crisis will have a growing adverse impact on confidence, on travel and supply chains across the globe. This will affect Bahamian workers and businesses and will have an impact on the poorer and more vulnerable individuals of our country.
“I will be meeting and consulting with major business entities to get their input on the government’s national response.”
As the spread of the COVID-19 continues worldwide, Dr. Minnis noted that no other sector is more at risk or more negatively impacted than the travel industry. As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a tremendous and widespread economic impact.
He pointed out that tourism accounts for an estimated 50 percent of The Bahamas’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with just under 50 percent of direct employment and has a cascading impact across the broader economy.
“Another important fact is that over 80 percent of our stopover visitors are from the United States, which is reporting increasing cases of the virus and 75 percent of our visitors come by cruise ship and they are suspending cruises,” Minnis said.
“All of these developments signal to us the huge exposure our economy faces from the spread of this virus, which has already begun to show up.”
When the House of Assembly meets on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Peter Turnquest is expected to give a full report on the financial and economic aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Dr. Minnis said that Mr. Turnquest is expected to outline a number of the measures which the government will be taking to deal with the expected negative economic impact of this crisis. Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dinisio D’Aguliar will also be expected to address Parliament on Wednesday to discuss the negative impact this pandemic will have on the Bahamian tourism economy.
Although some travel bans and restrictions have already been put in place by the Minnis Administration, Dr. Minnis said that on Thursday, March 19, 2020, new traveling restrictions will be introduced.
“Foreign nationals and foreign individuals who have travelled within the last 20 days from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe will be prohibited entry into The Bahamas,” said the Prime Minister. “This is in addition to restrictions already in place for China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.
“This restrictive travel list of countries will be monitored and updated as necessary. All Bahamian nationals and residents returning to The Bahamas through any point of entry from any of the restricted countries or an area where community infection and spread is present, will be quarantined or be placed under self-isolation upon arrival and are expected to follow the protocols of the Ministry of Health.
“Non-essential travel by Bahamian nationals and residents is highly discouraged.”
COVID-19, a virus strain, was first identified to infect humans in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. Since then, the virus has spread to over 30 countries in the world, infected over 180,531 people.
It was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020.
It took a long time before the Bahamas confirmed its first case of Covid-19. Now, the battle is on to stop the spread to this small island nation.
“We will be strong, we will be confident and we will be vigorous in our national response to this crisis,” said Dr. Minnis. “Our response must be across the board and must include all of us working together to fight COVID-19.
“The behavior and response of individual citizens, families, churches, schools and others is as essential as the response by the government. We are in this fight together. I have instructed every government ministry and agency to be in full preparedness mode.
“This is our greatest national priority.”
While the prime minister pointed out that Doctor’s Hospital on Blake Road in Nassau has been designated as a facility for the treatment of individuals who test positive for Covid-19, no mention of similar designated facilities for Grand Bahama or any other Family Island was announced.
He did say the government is securing “another facility” for COVID-19 purposes, but did not disclose the name or location of that facility.
“We do not know how long this crisis will be with us. Being prepared, vigilant and proactive is key to decreasing the risk associated with an outbreak of this virus. We are watching carefully and learning from other jurisdictions, particularly the countries that are best managing the outbreak in their country,” the nation’s chief said.
The prime minister urged Bahamians not to get caught up in the “fake news cycle” on social media and to pay attention and keep updated by the Ministry of Health, who will be holding regular updates on the COVID-19 outbreak.