Contribution to House of Assembly Debate Extension to the Emergency Proclamation – 26 November 2020

Mr. Speaker:

In The Bahamas, the proclamation of emergency and Parliament’s authorization of emergency powers grant the Government of the day the legal authority to act to protect the Bahamian people.

We are not here today to extend a curfew.

We are not here to enforce a lockdown.  We are not here to announce additional restrictions on any island.

We are simply here to extend the period under which an emergency power exist.

It is then up to the Government – guided by the advice of the public health team – to determine if restrictions are needed for a period of time in order to prevent sickness and death.

Currently, for example, under this emergency period there are many islands in the country where there are fewer restrictions and this is because they have few to no viral cases.

When cases and problems emerge, members of the public health team give us their recommendations as to what measures they suggest to slow spread of the virus.

When those measures succeed, we lift restrictions to allow Bahamians and residents to live a more normal life.

The measures we seek to extend today merely allow us to have the legal authority to act in case we need to use certain measures.

This does not mean that all of these measures are being used at a given time.

In The Bahamas, Mr. Speaker, we decided to extend our emergency measures for shorter periods than a number of other countries.

This allows us to keep assessing the current status of the pandemic and the need for such measures.

Other countries extend their emergency measures for longer periods at a time. 

For example, Barbados has extended its state of emergency into March of next year and each jurisdiction follows its own course.

Mr. Speaker:

The Government needs these powers because of how quickly this virus continues to spread.

One highly infectious individual could spread the virus in a closed room of 50 people to nearly every individual in that room.

The infected people would then go home environment, family members and in that household. 

They may then all go on to spread it to others.

One case could lead to an outbreak.  Hundreds and hundreds of people could get sick.

Our public health team Mr. Speaker, is working extremely hard in monitoring the situation, collecting data and advising as to the way forward and what should be done, so as to minimize the spread of this infection and subsequently hospitalization and possibly death.

When we see cases spike, we act quickly so that a small outbreak doesn’t lead to a major outbreak.

Again I emphasize, we utilize these emergency powers only when necessary.

Quite often, a number of the emergency measures are not utilized. For example, there are no measures in islands like Inagua, Mayaguana, Acklins, Crooked Island and many others.

When cases spike, governments do not have the liberty of a long period of time to act. We do not have weeks Mr. Speaker to act, instead governments must act quickly and decisively in order to avoid the spread of this deadly virus.

If a government waits too long to act, many more people get sick; many more people are hospitalized; and more people die.

Mr. Speaker:

It is reasonable to debate what restrictions should be in place on what island and for how long.

But it is highly irresponsible, reckless and unreasonable to suggest that we should not use emergency powers in the worst emergency in our country’s modern history.

The position the Opposition has taken is baffling and disturbing.

It appears from their rhetoric that if they were in office, they would not give themselves the power to act to save lives.

The last time we sought the approval of the House for emergency powers, the Opposition did not remain in the House to vote on the Resolution.

In the Senate the Opposition opposed the lifesaving measures.

    These were the very measures that helped to significantly reduce the number of cases on New Providence and Abaco.

    Without these measures, which the Opposition opposed, our numbers would have gotten much worse.

    If the country followed the advice of the Opposition, The Bahamas would be in the same dire straits as those places which opposed lifesaving emergency measures.

    Mr. Speaker:

    Our policies, in cooperation with the discipline of the Bahamian people, helped our country battle successfully through the second wave of the virus.

The emergency powers were key in this success.

The main authority in the powers is the ability to enforce physical distancing.

This virus spreads when people are in close contact with each other.

When virus cases go up, it is necessary to cause more distancing between people to prevent infections.

We do this by putting in place certain restrictive measures for a time.

By preventing mass gatherings we lessen the chance of the virus spreading.

By having curfews we limit human-to-human interactions to lessen the chance of the virus spreading.

We are a small island developing nation.

We have limited hospital space and a limited number of trained doctors and nurses.

We cannot allow the virus to run wild within our society, because it can cause serious problems and cause great repercussions.

Doing so would lead to the collapse of our healthcare system, leading to extraordinary human suffering and death.

It is unfortunate that some have offered commentary and taken positions on these emergency powers merely for political reasons.

We did not have the luxury of saying things that might seem popular at the moment.

We had to do the hard work to save lives.

That is what we did!

And, that is what we will continue to do.

We followed the medical advice.  

We were not afraid to act.

We will not pander and jeopardize the health of the Bahamian people.

My Government decided from the beginning of the crisis that keeping the Bahamian people safe was our main priority.

Politics was not a consideration, safety was, and saving lives were.

Thankfully, the measures we used worked to beat back the virus thus far.

Currently, our country is in a better position than many places.

We all must continue to follow the public health advice in order to keep our circumstance better.

Mr. Speaker:

Despite the recent announcements of a number of vaccines which will soon be deployed, it will take quite a number of months for vaccines to be readily available around the world and in The Bahamas. 

The United States and parts of Western Europe are likely to start frontline vaccinations next month. We will work hard and aggressively to ensure that we may also obtain vaccines during the same month. 

It will take some time for these vaccines to get to the developing world. 

In the meantime, because we are still in the middle of this deadly pandemic, we must continue to aggressively fight Covid-19. 

We should remember that: “A pandemic is when an infectious disease is passing easily from person to person in many parts of the world at the same time.” 

This continues to be the case throughout the world.

Tragically, in many regions of the world and in many countries, the current second wave is worst and more deadly than the first. 

This second wave will last for some time and is occurring during winter and holiday seasons where there is a considerable increase in travel. 

Mr. Speaker:

    It is essential that we have an international or global perspective.

    Such a broader perspective or worldview enables us to appreciate that in The Bahamas, we are utilizing many of the very same measures that are being used in other countries throughout the world.

    We are following the good example of other countries and jurisdictions in our emergency orders.

These include curfews, physical distancing measures, mask wearing and other public health restrictions used to protect our people.

    We also look to other countries to appreciate how The Bahamas is doing.   

    Fortunately, during our second wave, we did not have to put in place the most restrictive measures that have been put in place in many countries throughout the world.

    I wish to briefly note what is going on right now globally.

The BBC reported on Tuesday 24th November, 2020:  

“The [Covid-19] virus is surging in many regions and countries that had apparent success in suppressing initial outbreaks are also seeing infections rise again. 

“The most recent figures show more than 500,000 new cases reported in 24 hours. 

“North America is currently seeing the steepest rise in new cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that health workers and health systems ‘are being pushed to the breaking point’.” 

The BBC is also reporting: 

“World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros … said more cases of Covid-19 had been reported in the past four weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic. 

“The World Health Organization Europe director … says ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be a tough six months’.  He said one person was dying from Covid-19 in Europe every 17 seconds.” 

Mr. Speaker:

    Within this broader international context, I wish to update the House on the status of various islands in our pandemic response.

As the House is aware, tourism reopened at the beginning of November. 

I am advised by our health officials that because of the emergency public health measures we took approximately three weeks ago, the cases on New Providence appear to be stabilizing. 

On Monday past, November 23rd, there were 29 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, with three of these cases on New Providence.

As of November 23rd, there are 11 individuals hospitalized on New Providence. 

To ensure that this trend continues and out of an abundance of caution, we believe that the relaxation of measures at this time may be premature and may risk an increase in cases. 

Mr. Speaker:

    As previously noted an increase in cases on Grand Bahama was attributed to an outbreak at an industrial site.

This past Monday, there were 18 newly confirmed cases on Grand Bahama and there are eight Covid-19 hospitalizations. 

Health officials have advised that the restrictive measures currently in place on Grand Bahama should remain the same. 

Health officials have identified the need for more contract tracing resources on Grand Bahama, and will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 developments on the island.  

The Ministry of Health will provide further details on Grand Bahama in the days ahead.

Mr. Speaker:  

Health officials report that the restrictive measures put in place for mainland Eleuthera on the 8th of November are working. 

We are no longer seeing large numbers of cases on Eleuthera. 

On Monday past no new confirmed cases were reported on Eleuthera.

Within days of the restrictive measures being put in place, health officials were able to isolate all positive cases on Eleuthera, and quarantine the contacts of positive cases. 

The curve is starting to bend.

Health education initiatives are working.  

A team from the Ministry of Health will travel to Eleuthera this coming Friday, November 27th, to conduct a follow-up assessment of the COVID-19 situation.  

Restrictions will remain in place for the rest of this week. 

Next week, based on advice from health officials and their findings, I will announce whether restrictions can be relaxed on mainland Eleuthera.  

I am happy to report that cases are down on mainland Exuma.   

On Monday past there were three new confirmed cases.

Health officials continue to closely monitor COVID-19 developments on the island and will have more to say on Exuma soon.   

Mr. Speaker:

We are entering the holiday season, which is also the busy travel season.

We are exactly a month away from Christmas. 

Health officials have monitored very closely the pattern of infections occurring in Bahamians, including from overseas travel by Bahamians and residents.  

In this vein, I invite us all to be careful and cautious in our travels and movements over the holiday season.

I encourage Bahamians to be very vigilant this holiday season.

Please follow the public health measures, including avoiding large social gatherings and wearing masks, no matter where you are in the world.

If visiting with family or friends not in your household, it is best to do so outdoors.  If indoors, there should be good ventilation and proper physical distancing.

And it is essential that you wear a mask at all times when with someone not in your household. 

Mr. Speaker:

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst public health emergency of the world in a century.

More than 1.4 million people have died. 

Hundreds of thousands of people get sick every day from this very infectious virus.

A large number of countries and territories have invoked their state of emergency laws. 

Such laws were created for times like these.  Such laws are a part of the rule of law.

We can now see the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.

We are all tired of the pandemic.

The time is nearing when we will be able to be close again and in contact with each other again; when we can see friends and family more regularly again; when we can feel safer to travel again.

Mr. Speaker:

    May I close by paying a brief tribute to Dr. Timothy McCartney, who passed away on Sunday in Florida.  

As I noted in my statement on Sunday:  Timothy McCartney was an exuberant, generous, kind-hearted man who excelled as a teacher and as a counsellor. 

He was a deeply spiritual and creative individual, who dedicated his life to the well-being and enrichment of his family, friends, students, clients and colleagues. 

Dr. McCartney was a Bahamian pioneer and trailblazer in psychology.  He made tremendous contributions to national life and to an understanding of mental health and well-being in The Bahamas. 

On behalf of the Government and people of The Bahamas, and on my own behalf, and that of Patricia, I offer condolences to his wife, Pauline; his daughters: Angela and Lorraine; his siblings Coramae Major, William and Clinton McCartney and Ann Cancino; in-laws; grandchildren and great-grandchildren and numerous friends, colleagues and generations of students.

May he rest in peace.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to extend condolences to Former Speaker, Oswald Ingraham, who has passed away. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Ingraham and he was always a very respected and quiet and humble individual. So again I would like to send my condolences to the family of Mr. Ingraham and may he too rest in peace.  

Mr. Speaker:

    I vigorously support the extension of the Proclamation of Emergency until January 31st 2021.

    I continue to pray for God’s guidance and discernment for our country and my Government.

Mr. Speaker: 

I would like to remind everyone, that group exercise will be permitted in groups of ten here in New Providence and Abaco. This can occur 5am-9pm Monday-Friday, and 5am-6pm Saturdays and Sundays, effective immediately.

    May God continue to bless The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. May God continue to bless each and every one of you. 

    Thank you, Mr. Speaker.