Opposition calls for widespread testing
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis again defended the decision to shut the country’s borders to Bahamians as he tabled a resolution to extend the state of emergency, and by extension emergency powers, for another nine days.
Parliamentarians are debating the resolution in the House of Assembly today, and once passed, the resolution will then be sent to the Senate.
Minnis also tabled two emergency powers COVID-19 orders, and related amendments, that were issued under the regulations.
The prime minister said it was “unfortunate” there were Bahamians stuck outside the country due to border shutdown; however, he said the closure was essential to “minimize the importation of COVID and subsequently a spread”.
He furthered the country must aggressively monitor its borders as there was an uptick in marine activity.
Minnis suggested vessels were “coming into our shores running to safe haven Bahamas…we run the risk of exposing ourselves to what they’re running away from, bringing such potential disease entities here to our Bahamas.”
The prime minister also referenced another controversial matter, the closure of liquor stores.
Minnis said: “Medical personnel feel that at this point in time all resources should be utilized to fight the common enemy that we face and that is COVID. It is not unusual for a lot of resources to be diverted to the emergency room to deal with the effect of alcohol.
“In addition some have questioned the social implications, alcohol may relax the mind as they say and relieve the stress…alcohol would certainly not relax my mind.”
Minnis noted he did not consume alcohol, and recounted a story where he experienced drunkenness after eating a few slices of rum cake.
The prime minister said recommendations indicate alcohol could exacerbate social problems.
“I do no support it, alcohol stores are closed and will remain closed,” he said.
For his part, Opposition Leader Philip Davis said while the Progressive Liberal Party agreed to the emergency orders, the party’s support was not a “blank check”.
He questioned why the government had not moved to conduct mass testing, and further asked what protections or contingencies were in place for first responders and their heightened risk for infection.
There are at least 1500 test kits in country, according to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands in response to Davis.
The health minister noted there are another 10,000 blood test kits, but they have not been added in the testing process as yet.
Sands stressed the country had more than adequate testing capacity.
On the matter of alcohol sales, Davis noted there was a standalone business that had been permitted to continue selling drinks.
He underscored the enforcement of the order must appear to be fair and balanced.
“All I’m saying is on the face of it, if the general public can go there and buy and leave and someone else can’t do it then you have an anomaly,” Davis said.
“That’s why this presents a challenge because ordinary person on the streets, pool cleaners and gardeners, are they essential services?”
Davis continued: “We must not forget the objective underpinning order which is to save lives and stop the spread of the pandemic.
“As I said previously we must not overreach, this is not to pick or merely find fault. These orders challenge some of the most fundamental tenets of the constitutional rights of Bahamians to move freely and earn a living – the [more power], the higher the scrutiny.”
Davis said he suggested to Minnis that the role of competent authority should be shared by a group of people, adding it was “common sense and good practice” to share that responsibility.
Davis called on Minnis to strike a balance in the enforcement of emergency powers orders.
The opposition leader also called out the position taken by officials to brand reports of a possible 30-day shutdown as fake news.
The Opposition leader said he was not sure the report could be branded as completely false, when there was earlier messaging that suggested a lengthier extension.
He urged Minnis and officials to be frank and transparent moving forward.