NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest yesterday said consideration has been given to the continuity of government if Cabinet ministers were impacted by COVID-19.
Turnquest and Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis went into self-quarantine after the Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Centre, which houses their offices, was closed for deep cleaning and sanitization due to exposure to the virus.
The Cabinet Office said while there was no confirmation that either Minnis or Turnquest was exposed to the virus, but they will remain quarantined until further instructions from the Ministry of Health.
“In this particular circumstance, neither one of us are exhibiting any signs of being affected and of course I have been tested negative twice now, so that fear is minimal,” Turnquest said.
“In the event there is a deteriorating or an infection that requires hospitalization for either one of us the obvious duties… will be transferred either from him to me or me to him and it would work that way.
“If both of us were to somehow succumb to illness then it would move on to the next person in the line… And I confess, I don’t know who the third person is, but it would move down the line and we would go from there.
Turnquest said he and the prime minister continue to perform all duties of state electronically via the “available technologies”.
He said the Minnis administration’s effort to streamline the processes of government online has helped them to work remotely no matter where they are.
“There is no stopping the work of The Bahamas,” the deputy prime minister said.
“Both the prime minister and I continue to carry out our job functions effectively.”
He said: “Technology gives us the ability to conduct our normal business activities via technology either through these kind of conferencing platforms or electronically.
“As you know, we have been engaged in a modernization effort in government to automate most of the processes that we do, and so we share documents and other information back and forth using technology.
“I am able to sign documents electronically that’s provided for in the law and continue to engage with my teams throughout the day via telephone or via one of these conferencing platforms, so we are not missing a beat. We continue to conduct the affairs of state as if we were sitting in our offices.”
Asked whether a protocol was implemented in the event the entire Cabinet was exposed to the virus, Turnquest pointed out Cabinet moved primarily to a digital platform some time ago.
He said notwithstanding previously quarantining he has been able to participate in Cabinet meetings remotely.
Turnquest tested for the virus after his police aide in Grand Bahama tested positive.
Turnquest, who travelled to the island on July 12-14, tested negative.
Out of an abundance of caution, Turnquest voluntarily entered self-quarantine and worked remotely from home.
“We have always had contingency plans in place in the event that something happens to the prime minister or myself or anyone else in the Cabinet where those duties would be temporarily transferred or heaven forbid, if something permanent happened, then obviously the constitution takes over and we conduct necessary procedures to find a replacement,” Turnquest said.
“But you know, again, I don’t anticipate that we’ve reached that point and we continue to take the precautions necessary to ensure nothing like that ever happens.”
To date, there have been 932 cases recorded since July 1 when the country reopened its borders to international commercial carriers.
Several government buildings were closed today for deep cleaning following incidents of exposure to COVID-19.
Among them were, the Ministry of Works on Thompson Boulevard, the Ministry of Health’s headquarters on Meeting Street, and the Public Hospitals Authority’s corporate offices on Third and West Terraces.
Turnquest said he would not wish to see Cabinet ministers work in isolation at this stage as the nature of “our business is that we have to interact with people”.
He said: “I would not want to see us removing ourselves completely from that interaction because that is where we get feedback from our staff as well as from the public, so that we ensure that we stay in tune with the needs and the thinking of the Bahamian people”.