MP: Lockdown will starve Exuma economy

MP: Lockdown will starve Exuma economy
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper (KEVAL WILLIAMS/EWN)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Exumas MP Chester Cooper yesterday objected to the implementation of full weekend lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 on the mainland.

Cooper underscored the island had begun to experience some economic relief from tourism and further insisted the sudden shift will damage the island’s brand.

He also contested the cessation of in-person schooling, citing concerns the virtual platform or the internet connectivity to support it has not been sufficiently tested on the island.

Effective today, all domestic travel by air or sea vessels is prohibited in and out of Exuma except for exemptions provided in the emergency orders and approved by officials.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the measures during a national address last night.

As of yesterday, there were 79 cases on the island of Exuma.

Of that number, 28 cases are active, and two are hospitalized.

There was also one COVID-19-related death reported, Minnis said.

Anyone traveling from Exuma to any other island in The Bahamas will be required to have a negative COVID RT-PCR test.

A weekday curfew begins today from 6pm to 5am. Commercial activity may continue as normal during the week, except as follows: fish fries, bars and restaurants connected to bars.

On Friday, November 13, Exuma will go into a 24-hour weekend lockdown at 6pm, ending Monday 5am. During the weekend curfew, business operations will not be allowed to open.

In a statement last night, Cooper noted the government did not consult with him on the move as the area representative.

“While the rapid rise in cases on Exuma is very troubling and some restrictive measures may be warranted to slow the spread, I do not support full weekend lockdowns,” Cooper said.

“They are too blunt an instrument for the situation as it stands. We are just now experiencing some relief on the tourism front after months of lingering in the economic doldrums.

“We have international flights now coming in from Florida and North Carolina on Saturdays.

“And we were experiencing serious interest in domestic travel from New Providence before the quarantine was reinstated.”

Cooper said: “Not only will this damage our brand internationally, but it will further starve Exuma’s economy of vital tourism dollars.”

According to Minnis, private and public social gatherings are not allowed.

Funeral services may take place at the graveside only and will be limited to 10 people, not including the officiant and caretakers. Weddings are also limited to 10 people, not including officiants.

Repasts and receptions are also prohibited, while churches and schools are restricted to virtual services only.

For his part, Cooper said the measures may temporarily reduce the spread but there was a greater need for a “viable plan moving forward”.

The area MP said testing was taking too long, and the island’s hospital was understaffed, and its healthcare staff overworked.

“We need to get back to the fundamentals of COVID-19 management — widespread and free testing, contact tracing, quarantining those who have contracted it and ensuring compliance and enforcing the public health protocols through the police and COVID ambassadors,” he said.

“If not, we will be back here again in short order.”

Cooper added: “As I have repeatedly urged, the hospital needs to be fully staffed and resourced so that it can serve as a healthcare hub for the central and southern Bahamas.

“I would also like to urge Exumians to not let down their guard. It has been a long haul and everyone is tired, but COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time. Please wear your masks, do not gather in large groups, and practice social distancing and proper hygiene.”

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