By Ashley Penn-Nixon
As countries around the world have begun the process of adjusting to the new normal, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis made a number of pronouncements Thursday, including a new date for the national examinations, the reopening of some parks and beaches and the resumption of regular hours for a number of businesses.
The nation’s leader made his remarks during a press conference in the capital on the COVID-19 update.
While revealing the nation’s progress as the government seeks to reopen the country after three months of closure, he revealed that both The Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Examination (BGCSE) will commence on July 13 and that additional information will be revealed by the Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd during the upcoming budget debate which begins on Monday.
“We have started to enter phase four of the reopening. Starting next weekend, the 13th of June, the weekend lockdowns will be lifted. We have decided to maintain the 9:00pm to 5:00am curfew Monday through Sunday for a period of time,” Minnis said.
“We are doing this in order to continue to open in a gradual and sustained manner. I wish to announce that effective Monday, June 8th beach and park restrictions will be removed for the islands of Eleuthera, Harbor Island, Exuma and San Salvador. Spanish Wells, which was hardly mentioned, is now completely free and their beaches are likewise opened,” he added.
As the Labor Day weekend approaches, many residents anxiously awaited the prime minister’s update on weekend maneuvers, however, those hopes quickly diminished after it was revealed that beaches and parks are to remain closed on a number of islands.
“Beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and Bimini remains closed. Also, effective Monday, 8th of June, exercise is permitted from 5:00am to 9:00pm beyond one’s immediate neighborhood every day of the week,” Minnis said.
Residents may also continue to exercise with their immediate family; however, group exercise and sporting activities and events are still restricted.
The prime minister also gave a much-anticipated update regarding the reopening of a number of services and organizations.
“All professional services and commercial activity may resume regular operating hours but must be closed by 7:00pm daily. This does not include restaurants and bars, hair salons, barbers, cinemas, gyms, cultural and entertainment facilities which are to remain closed. Places of worship may resume regular office hours; fishing is allowed with more than two people in a vessel. Physical distancing and proper sanitization and hygiene measures are required, and masks should be worn,” Minnis said.
While certain establishments are permitted to open, the nation’s chief noted that business owners must enforce various protocols and guidelines.
“Effective Friday June 12th, restaurants reopen with outdoor sitting only. There will be no indoor sitting allowed at this point. This includes restaurants at Arawak Cay fish fry and Potter’s Cay Dock. All restaurants must follow industry COVID-19 protocols and guidelines. Owners must ensure proper physical distancing,” he said.
The long-awaited return of services offered by hairstylists and barbers is on the horizon as PM Minnis revealed the way forward for cosmetologists.
“Effective Monday, June 15th, hair salons and barber shops may resume operations following certification by the Ministry of Health. All salons, spas and parlors wishing to open should produce a current business license, engage in deep cleaning of their salon and put procedures in place to maintain physical distancing, hand washing and sanitizing and mask wearing to protect themselves and their clients,” he said.
“In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, all beauty professionals are required to attend an infection prevention and control course before returning to work. The course will be offered digitally through the Bahamian Cosmetology and Barbers Association, Faces of Beauty School of Cosmetology and Workforce Training Institute or the Early Access Training Center. Upon successful completion of the class, proprietors will receive a certificate which must be displayed in the salon where they work,” Minnis added.
As the country begins its recuperating process amid COVID-19, Minnis said health protocols have been established for specific industries, however, general workplace protocols are continuing to be finalized and revised by health team and the National COVID-19 Coordinating Committee.
Commencing on June 5th the government’s quarantine facility will be disabled or decommissioned in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Returning Bahamians and residents will no longer be required to quarantine after their arrival, but will be monitored by the Ministry of Health Surveillance Unit and Hubbcat monitoring app if necessary.
To date, some 500 Bahamians and residents have returned on Bahamasair and The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health are working to arrange more flights as necessary.
In an effort to combat issues surrounding a lack of food in some households, Prime Minister Minnis said the government has approved $16 million for the National Food Distribution Program, which will provide food for approximately 80,000 people for 12 weeks.
“Food is being distributed in zones across the country and New Providence through the Ministry of Social Services and NGO partners. Accountability mechanisms to ensure proper distribution of food is being done in conjunction with the University of The Bahamas,” he added.