3 May COVID-19 Update National Address


COVID – 19 Update

The Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis

Prime Minister

Sunday, 3 May 2020

My Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Good afternoon.

We are making progress in our fight against the COVID -19 virus.

The measures we have put in place to stem the outbreak are working.

But we cannot as a country let down our guard.

There is still much work to be done in the weeks and months ahead.

The 24-hour curfew from Monday 5am to Friday 9pm will continue as will the lockdowns from Friday 9pm to Monday 5am.

We have to continue to wear our masks to practice physical distancing as well as to wash our hands thoroughly along with other measures.

To date, there remain 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

This includes 67 in New Providence, 7 in Grand Bahama, 8 in Bimini and 1 in Cat Cay.

The Ministry of Health has reported no new confirmed cases of COVID -19 today.

Because of the progress we are making, I am pleased to announce today that effective tomorrow, May 4th, we will move to Phase 1b in the reopening of our economy.

This portion of phase 1 focuses on delivery and curbside service and construction.

This phased re-opening is aimed at striking the right balance between permitting some further level of commerce to resume while still maintaining a vigilant national position promoting physical distancing and reinforcing the health and safety precautions necessary to mitigate community spread of COVID-19.

The objective of the first phase is to stimulate businesses through economic activity and to meet needs important to the population during this health crisis.

Starting tomorrow:

Businesses that can provide goods and services through delivery and curbside pick-up will be able to do so Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Construction on New Providence and Grand Bahama will be allowed to operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Home and hardware stores, plant nurseries and auto parts stores may expand to 5-day online delivery and curbside services if they have the capacity.

This is in addition to the in-store days those stores are currently allowed to operate.

For example, home and hardware stores that are allowed to offer in-store services on Wednesdays and Fridays, may now offer delivery and curbside services Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

They may also offer delivery and curbside services during their in-store operating days.

Businesses must be able to demonstrate existing capabilities to take orders by phone or online and acknowledgement of receipt.

Businesses should use gloves and other protocols in handling and delivery of goods and interaction with customers.

Proper physical distancing and sanitizing measures must be practiced at all times.

I am pleased to announce that construction will now be permitted on New Providence and Grand Bahama with industry protocols that cover transportation, the use of Personal Protective Equipment, physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting protective measures and other measures.

The protocols were established in conjunction with the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and the Bahamas Construction Association.

Professional athletes will also be allowed to resume training under Phase 1b.

Let me remind you of the health guidelines utilized to determine the transition from one phase to the next.

The criteria include:

  • The number of new cases over specified time intervals together with model predictions;
  • The capacity of the health system to respond to increased number of cases;
  • The number and dispersion of contacts of confirmed cases throughout the archipelago;
  • Identification of vulnerabilities in congregate facilities, such as Her Majesty’s Prison and long-stay facilities; and
  • Adherence to existing restrictions.

These criteria are in tandem with the strengthening of our health care capacity.

  • The establishment of the South Beach Clinic;
  • Training and cross training of health care providers;
  • Enhanced training for patient care technicians in infection control monitoring;
  • Proposed training to increase the number of certified respiratory therapists;
  • Mobile response teams to manage outbreak situations;
  • Adequate and appropriate use of protective-equipment;
  • The capacity to test those who carry the disease; and
  • Monitoring the use of research materials to mitigate morbidity and mortality in the COVID- 19 and post Dorian period.

The Government will regularly receive reports on these criteria as we seek to keep the level of transmission low while we gradually and safely reopen our economy.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

The phased plan for reopening our economy and our islands is a guideline.

We will have to be flexible in the application of the guidelines.

If advised by our health officials to do so we may have to go back to certain restrictions.

If we are making more progress we may be able to ease certain restrictions quicker.

The opening of various Family Islands was set to begin in Phase Two.

But we have decided to gradually re-open our Family Islands by zone, starting tomorrow in the Southern Bahamas.

The following islands will be able to resume normal commercial activity effective Monday, May, 4th: Ragged Island, Rum Cay, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay.

Physical distancing and other safety protocols must be practiced and will be enforced at all times.

Border restrictions as it relates to the travel of passengers in the Family Islands remain except for emergency and other circumstances which must be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

However, residents of New Providence who are currently in the islands just mentioned, will be allowed to return to New Providence.

Curfew and lockdown measures remain in effect for all Family Islands, including the zones that have returned to normal commercial activity.

Using guidelines provided by health officials, other islands will be allowed to resume commercial activity at the appropriate time.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

There was an incident last week involving some residents who flew by private aircraft to New Providence and brought COVID-19 tests with them.

The protocol for allowing Bahamians and legal residents to enter the country at this time was breached last week.

This matter involved some residents who flew by private aircraft to New Providence and brought COVID-19 tests with them.

I have now been informed that instead of the stated two permanent residents who were allowed to disembark and remain in the country that it was actually six permanent residents, who are all related.

All of these individuals have tested negative for COVID-19 and will remain under a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The Minister of Health will issue a statement on this matter tomorrow.

Let me be clear about the protocol for Bahamians and residents wishing to return to The Bahamas.

Citizens and legal residents of The Bahamas, the latter with a home in The Bahamas, will be permitted entry into The Bahamas via air travel to New Providence or Grand Bahama.

Those individuals in these categories are to make contact with the nearest Bahamas Embassy or Consulate to them.

Aircrafts and airlines proposing to carry such individuals are required to make flight applications in the normal course to the Department of Civil Aviation.

Each person will be required to obtain a RTPCR COVID 19 molecular diagnostic test from an accredited lab prior to returning, unless otherwise approved to have the test administered upon arrival.

As some individuals returning from Florida have indicated they are having a difficulty in obtaining this test, we are helping to facilitate them in obtaining the diagnostic test.

The test results, identifying particulars and contact information of the each returning individual will be submitted to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Ministry of Health.

All those returning will be required to be quarantined for fourteen days, in a government quarantined facility or self          quarantined.

They will all be subject to mandatory quarantine verification monitoring by the Ministry of Health.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

As I announced in the House of Assembly this past Monday, the Government has made arrangements for the return of hundreds of Bahamians who have been in the United States for some time.

It is expected that they will begin arriving to New Providence by this weekend coming.

For this group of Bahamians returning from the United States on the commercial aircraft, these individuals will have the option of self-quarantining at home or being quarantined at the facility the Government has identified for the group, for a two-week period.

Individuals in quarantine, at home or in the Government facility, must adhere to the strict protocols established by public health officials.

Those who break quarantine face a $20,000 fine or five years imprisonment, or both. This will be strictly enforced.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

The National Food Committee is making preparations to ensure fair and adequate food distribution for all Bahamians and residents.

To date there are 88 NGOs and private sector entities involved in the national food effort have provided information for a national survey.

Responses have come from Grand Bahama, New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma, Andros, Cat Island, Acklins, Long Island, San Salvador, Berry Islands, Bimini, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua.

A National database is in development.  The database will allow any individual in need to register, with three clarifying locational references, including, island, constituency, and settlement or residential community.

The Food Committee is in discussion with Samaritan’s Purse who is offering to seek international support from World Food Program and other international partners to underwrite a voucher program for people in need in Abaco and Grand Bahama.

The Committee is carrying out a capacity analysis of the NGOs and PSEs for a three-month window to better understand where we are and what national capacity looks like.

The estimate is that the collective costs to these entities to be nearly $250,000 a week, which I wish to acknowledge with gratitude.

The Committee will over the coming days and weeks provide more details on the structure of the program and how food will be distributed.

I once again thank the members of the Committee for their spirit of patriotism and community service.

This is what solidarity and national unity looks like.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Early in the fight against COVID -19, the Ministry of Health advised that, as a key strategy to reduce transmission, schools should be closed.

I advised the Minister of Education of this decision and, therefore, schools were ordered close on Monday, March 16th, 2020.

To continue the education of students in the government-operated school system, the Ministry of Education enhanced the development of the Virtual Learning School that was launched in September, 2019, following Hurricane Dorian.

The enhancement of the Virtual Learning required the development and expansion of ICT infrastructure to host the virtual learning activities and to train teachers and staff.

Within a number of days, the Department of Education was able to train in excess of 2,100 of its approximately 3,000 teachers in the use of Zoom and other virtual platforms to support online teaching.

Led by curriculum officers, hundreds of teachers were engaged in the process of content development.

The Ministry of Education was able to commence its virtual learning platform on Monday 23th March and added the feature of ‘live’ instruction one week later.

Registration of students to the platform continues to climb and now stands at about 41,000 public, private and home-schooled students.

While the number of registered students is commendable, the Ministry is concerned about the approximately 15,000 students who are not engaged in learning at this time, due to a lack of internet, devices or both.

To assist those without the available internet or devices, the Ministry partnered with Cable Bahamas to launch two channels on Wednesday 15th April, 2020, to broadcast academic content.

Channel 295 was dedicated to New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Eleuthera, while Cable 12 served the majority of the remainder of the Family Islands.

I am assured also that the children on the few Family Islands which are unable to receive either Channels 295 or 12 are being assisted by their parents and teachers in obtaining their instructions online.

The material now being broadcast are designed for students studying for the BJC and BGCSE Exams.

A separate channel will be launched soon, with materials for the other grades.

The Ministry of Education is securing some 5,000 devices for distribution throughout the Bahamas.

The first students to receive these devices will be those on the Ministry’s lunch feeding program, followed by others as deemed necessary.

I wish to thank the Ministry of Education staff and administrators, teachers and staff throughout the country for their hard work during this time.

The Ministry of Education is also addressed the nutritional needs of our most economically vulnerable students.

Efforts were made to distribute food vouchers to the 4,300 students who ordinarily participate in the school feeding program.

The Ministry was happy that, in the Family Islands, the collection rates were very high.

Unfortunately, the collection rate in the urban areas of Nassau and Freeport, was not good, with only about half of the vouchers being collected.

The public is advised that the Ministry of Education will engage in a second round of voucher distribution for students who were already on the school lunch program.

One of the implications of online education, now that the traditional school has been suspended, is that end of term and National Exams such as the GLAT, BJC and BGCSE have been postponed, NOT cancelled.

These exams will still take place whenever the opportunity arises to conduct them safely.

For this reason, students are reminded that in order to do well on their exams, they must remain studious and disciplined in their studies.

Parents are encouraged to ensure that their children develop a schedule for their school work, and attend to them diligently.

To expand the Ministry’s support for students, particularly those preparing for National Examinations, the Ministry of Education is in the process of re-engaging The One on One Learning Management System, a Public Private Tripartite Partnership between the Ministry and Cable & Wireless and BTC.

One-on-One is a relatively new and innovative company out of Jamaica which has offered online learning to students in countries across the English-Speaking Caribbean.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, thousands of Bahamian students benefited free of charge from the extra-tuition opportunities afforded them by this partnership.

The Minister of Education assured me that such an arrangement will further support the Virtual Learning Platform which his Ministry has put in place, ensuring opportunities for all students in both public and private schools.

In terms of the re-opening of schools, the public is again reminded that the Ministry of Education will be guided by the advice of the Ministry of Health and its officials.

However, in the short term, matters pertaining to the continued development of learning resources, increasing access to the Virtual Learning Platform by vulnerable students, student assessment and other logistics are being addressed.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Since the very beginning of our fight against the COVID-19 virus, we have had to work in a spirit of solidarity and national unity.

We must continue to work together, in love and unity, to protect our country and each other.

We have a very long and difficult road ahead to restore our health, to restore our economy and to restore our society.

We will have to rely on each other and greater self-reliance to pull through and to endure.

But we will travel this rough road together.

We must do so with faith in ourselves and faith in Almighty God, who is fortress and our strength.

Let us recall during this difficult time the words of inspiration and encouragement from the song, “When the Road Seems Rough” from the Legend of Sammy Swain written by E. Clement Bethel, which I wish to paraphrase.

“When the road seems rough, when you’ve borne enough, don’t cry, don’t sigh … just keep on trying … This time will pass, tomorrow’s another day.”

Let me end with the prayer I offered for the Annual U. S. National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. held yesterday.

Lord of Life, God of New Beginnings:

We come before you seeking wisdom and discernment during these days of trial and challenge.

We beseech you to give comfort to the dying, the ill and their families.

We ask you to heal the sick of heart, mind, body and spirit.

Protect all of those who minister to us on the frontlines of the global pandemic threatening the peoples and nations of the world.

Grant us a spirit of global solidarity.

Grant us the gifts of kindness, humility and compassion for all.

Grant us the gift of peace in our hearts and the cessation of conflict and war.

Invoke in us words and deeds of love and justice as we care for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized in our lands.

Just as you bring life out of death and new life abundantly, grant us the courage, the hope, the will and the foresight to bring new life out of this time of pain and suffering.

God of New Beginnings: Give us the gift of a new Pentecost.

Let your Spirit reign in our hearts.

In the lamentation of the Psalmist, we plead and cry out to the Lord of Life:

“ … O Lord … hear [our] voice.

O let your ears be attentive to the voice of [our] pleading.”

With deep faith in our God, the words of Isaiah 41: 10 are our shield and our refuge:

“Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

God of New Beginnings

Through your Spirt, may we ever be men and women of gratitude and generosity, of justice and mercy, of fortitude and faith

God of New Beginnings: To thee we pray.


Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

May God continue to bless our Bahamas.

Thank you and good afternoon.