National Address – 8 November 2020

Good afternoon.

       It has been just over four weeks since I announced a number of measures aimed at reducing the transmission of COVID-19 in the country and particularly on New Providence and Abaco.  

At the Ministry of Health’s press conference this past Friday, health officials provided an update on the progress we have made.

Between the 10th of October and the 5th of November, new COVID-19 cases decreased by 50%.

In the last 7 days, new COVID-19 cases decreased by eight percent.

The national average of the number of new cases each week continues to fall. 

Hospitalizations have decreased by 68% from mid-October to now.  The data suggests that transmission is decreasing.  

The most recent data put our national positivity rate at 16%, which is a 44.8% reduction from the week just before the measures were put in place.

We have seen good progress on both New Providence and Abaco. 

Because we have made progress together, I am pleased to announce the following new revised measures for New Providence and Abaco, effective tomorrow, Monday, the 9th of November.

The weekend 24-hour curfew is lifted. The curfew on Saturdays and Sundays will now be from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The weekday curfew will move to 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. This 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will also apply to Grand Bahama on weekdays and at the weekends.

The retail sector, including pharmacies, may resume in-store services Monday to Saturday following the protocols prepared by The Bahamas Federation of Retailers and certified by the Ministry of Health.

On Saturdays, food stores may open to the public.

On Sundays, food stores may carry out restocking. 

Outdoor dining may resume at restaurants and at fish frys, Monday to Saturday.

On Sunday, only drive-thru and take away services will be permitted.

 At hotels, indoor dining may also resume. 

       Beaches and parks will now be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

       Please remember that groups are limited to five people and that beaches and parks will be closely monitored by the COVID-19 Enforcement Unit.

We continue to consult with health officials to determine the appropriate time for the safe reopening of gyms, spas and other elements of our economy.

Health officials will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 developments on New Providence and Abaco and continue to assess the health data.

I heartily thank all of those who continue to follow the health measures.  Because of your patience, your fortitude and your discipline, we are making progress.

I know that many of these measures have been difficult on many families and businesses.

But I assure you that what we are doing in the short-term, will help families, businesses and the ongoing reopening of our economy in the medium- and long-term.

I would like to acknowledge the Family Islands that currently have no active cases of COVID-19.

These islands include: Acklins, Crooked Island, Cat Island, Inagua, Mayaguana, Long Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay and Ragged Island.  

I wish to now speak directly to the people of Eleuthera.  

A Ministry of Health medical team traveled to Eleuthera last week to assess the COVID-19 situation on the island.  

As of Saturday the 7th of November, a total of 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded on the island.  

All districts in Eleuthera have recorded cases of COVID-19.  South Eleuthera has the greatest proportion of cases with 37.8%; followed by North Eleuthera with 29.7% and then Central Eleuthera with 24.4%.

Health officials have reported that a number of COVID-19 cases have been linked to bars. 

Additionally, the current increase in cases on Eleuthera has been linked to a funeral held two weeks ago.

Health officials also reported that there appears to be minimal to no adherence to public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I am advised that some concerned residents of Eleuthera have called for more restrictive measures to be put in place to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

After its visit to and assessment of mainland Eleuthera, health officials have made a number of recommendations geared toward slowing and controlling the transmission of the virus on the island. 

The new measures apply to mainland Eleuthera and are effective tomorrow, Monday 9 November 2020.

To be clear, the new measures do not apply to Spanish Wells or Harbour Island.

       A 24-hour weekend curfew will be implemented, starting 6 p.m. on Fridays and ending 5 a.m. on Mondays.

During the 24-hour weekend curfew, businesses will not be permitted to operate, including grocery stores, restaurants, and pharmacies. 

A new updated Emergency Order will provide further details as it relates to specific provisions during the 24-hour weekend curfew. 

During the week, from Monday to Friday, a daily curfew will be in effect from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Commercial activity will continue during non-curfew hours.

The health team has recommended the closure of all bars.  As a result of this recommendation, all bars and restaurants connected to bars are to be closed.  

Residents should not operate bars from their residences. 

All private and public social gatherings are prohibited. 

Indoor church services are not permitted.

In-person classroom instruction of students is also prohibited.

Both may occur by virtual means only.

Funerals are to be a maximum of 10 people at the graveside excluding the officiant and caretakers. 

Weddings are to be a maximum of 10 people excluding the officiant.

Receptions and repasts are prohibited.

Health officials will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation on Eleuthera.

       I wish to remind Bahamians on every island, that the COVID-19 virus is easy to catch and can spread quickly and get out of control when we let down our guard.

When we stop wearing our mask or have certain social events and gatherings or do not maintain physical distancing, the virus will take easy advantage.

To reduce the spread on Eleuthera, I ask everyone on the island to please go back to the measures that worked for you in the past, so that Eleuthera can reopen various areas as safely and as quickly as possible.

The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is on alert and in place to ensure that vessels do not flee Eleuthera in violation of the Orders.

Additional police resources have been deployed to ensure enforcement of measures put in place to protect the residents of Eleuthera. 

       I wish to say to all Bahamians and residents: As we continue to reopen our economy in phases, we anticipate that the number of cases will increase.

But we can still slow and control the transmission of COVID-19 if we consistently practice the health measures recommended by public health professionals that we already know are effective. 

Please continue to wear your masks; wash your hands thoroughly and often; and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others. 

The pandemic is not over.  Restrictions alone will not work.  

We each must take personal responsibility and follow the preventative health measures to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

Even as we are continuing to encourage various health measures, we know that enforcement of the various measures are also essential.

Since the establishment of the COVID-19 Command Center in August, more than 2,888 calls have been received.  

As part of our COVID-19 response, the COVID-19 Enforcement Unit has dispatched personnel to follow up on reports of mass social gatherings and incidents on isolated beaches.

Eight out of ten calls made to the COVID-19 Enforcement Unit hotline were reports related to various business establishments of individuals not wearing masks or social distancing.

I once again ask all business establishments to ensure that your employees and customers are abiding by health measures.

If we work together to do this, we will be able to keep various areas of the economy open.  It is in all of our best interests to follow the health measures.

It is better for business and it is better for the country at large. 

I encourage Bahamians and residents to continue to use the COVID-19 Hotline at 702-9967 thru 9 or 702-9970 thru 2.

To date, statistics reflect that 67% of citations issued by the COVID 19 Enforcement Unit referred to the failure to wear masks away from a residence, and 27%  referred to breach of curfew.

This excludes the COVID 19 Enforcement Unit’s  immediate shutdown of social gatherings and business establishments found in breach of the COVID-19 Emergency Powers Order.  

The number of calls to the Unit has been steadily increasing in recent weeks for 24-hour curfew breaches.

Fellow Bahamian and Residents: 

While we continue our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government is making good on our $55 million commitment this fiscal year of 2020 to 2021, to support Bahamian entrepreneurs and small businesses.  

Through the Access Accelerator-Small Business Development Centre, or SBDC, a new small business grant programme has been launched to provide grants of up to $5,000 to Bahamian entrepreneurs to start a business or to expand their small business.  

These are grants or funds that these entrepreneurs get to fund a specific business need that they have.

These funds do not have to be repaid.    

To date, the SBDC has received over 400 applications toward the $500,000 that has been budgeted for the programme.   

The response has been so positive, that the SBDC has shifted its budget to add an additional $500,000 to the programme to bring the total programme allocation to $1 million.    

Through this programme, individual entrepreneurs and micro-businesses will get equipment, supplies and materials to allow them to start a business or to give their enterprise a boost.  

I am pleased to say that shortly the SBDC will launch its Youth Programme that will provide grants, loans, training and business support for Young Bahamians aged 18 to 30.   

The government and the SBDC recognizes that our young people have incredible determination and drive.  Many of them have a strong desire to work for themselves.   

My government wants to nurture their sense of entrepreneurship and ownership. 

The experience of the SBDC is that young applicants also require substantial training and business support to turn their dreams and ideas into viable and sustainable businesses.

Accordingly, the SBDC has budgeted the sum of $1.5 million in its new Youth Programme that will provide grants, loans, training and business support for young entrepreneurs getting into their first business or expanding their existing businesses.  

They will be active participants in an extended programme over several months to ensure that the young Bahamians in the programme get the funds that they need.

We also help them to obtain the skills, support and sustainability measures that will help them to remain as successful entrepreneurs over their lifetimes.

In our three-plus years in office, my government has provided unprecedented levels of support for Bahamian entrepreneurs.   

Since coming to office, we have through the SBDC to date, provided some $52.7 million in loans and grants to over 950 Bahamian micro- and small businesses. 

This includes over $40 million in direct support for those that have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.     

Never before in the history of our country have Bahamian entrepreneurs obtained this kind of direct small business support.

We will be doing even more to create opportunities for Bahamians entrepreneurs.

You may recall that based on the recommendation of the Economic Recovery Committee, I recently committed this government to $50 million per year in support for small businesses over the next five years – for a total $250 million in support for Bahamian entrepreneurship.

I wish to add today we will continue to set aside sums for specific segments of our population to ensure that marginalized and under-represented groups in our Bahamas get specific attention.

Accordingly, of the $250 million five-year commitment, my government will set aside a minimum of $25 million specifically for entrepreneurship programs geared toward Bahamian youth and toward women.  

I wish to be clear, while there will be funds directly targeted for certain segments, including young people, all Bahamians are eligible to seek grants.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

As I have mentioned to you before, during the pandemic we will go through cycles of tightening and loosening restrictions.

When case numbers go up, we have to tighten the rules to save lives. 

When those numbers go down, we loosen restrictions so Bahamians may get back to work and resume more normal lives.

The measures we put in place to combat the second wave have worked. 

Some criticized us for acting aggressively, but we knew we had to intervene to slow the spread of the virus and save Bahamian lives.

We do not like putting in place restrictions.  However, our main priorities are the health and safety of the Bahamian people.

We are not afraid of making the tough decisions to protect you.  

I thank members of the public health team for their sound advice.

I thank the Bahamian people for complying with the rules.  

As we emerge out of this second wave, let us be cautiously optimistic and let us continue to be careful.

We are opening up.  But if we stop following the public health advice, virus cases will increase again and we may end up back under restrictions.

There are several things we must continue to do:

  • Wear your masks properly over your mouth and nose
  • Wash or sanitize your hands regularly;
  • When out, remain physically distant from others.

If we stay disciplined and keep virus numbers down, we could have a Christmas season of more openness.

In North America and Europe the virus rages at a record pace. They face a bad winter.

Lockdowns have been put in place across Europe.

We must be mindful that even though our situation has improved, the pandemic is not over.  It will continue into next year.   

Throughout this pandemic – through the good and the challenging times – I have followed the advice of our healthcare professionals and consulted widely in the community.

We will continue to maintain an active dialogue with business leaders, pastors and members of civic organizations of all types.

We are one team, One Bahamas in our fight against COVID-19. 

All Bahamians of goodwill are pulling for The Bahamas to be successful.

All Bahamians of goodwill are hoping the numbers continue to go down – and stay down.

The fight against this virus is not a partisan fight.  The coronavirus may infect any of us no matter our political affiliation. 

Let us continue to pray for the success of The Bahamas.

Let us continue to pray for the recovery of our brothers and sisters who are sick, or are having difficult times with lingering symptoms.

Let us pray for the families of those who have died and those who are recovering.

And let us ask Almighty God for his eternal blessings on our Bahamas.

In conclusion, I would like to provide a brief update on Tropical Storm Eta, which continues to impact parts of the Northwest Bahamas.

Yesterday, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) partially activated its Emergency Operations Centre to closely monitor the track of Tropical Storm Eta. 

Over the past 48 hours, the director of NEMA, Captain Stephen Russell, has been in constant contact with Family Island administrators in the Northwest Bahamas to ensure that their communities are prepared for the storm.

NEMA-designated shelters on the islands of Grand Bahama, Abaco, Bimini, The Berry Islands, Andros, New Providence and Eleuthera were opened as of 8am, today.

Preliminary reports from the affected Islands are of flooding, rendering roads impassable in some areas, high winds, gusty conditions, sea swells and some fallen trees. The Glass Window Bridge in Eleuthera has been closed due to sea surge.

So far, there have been no reports of injuries or incidents as a result of the weather.

The Bahamas Department of Meteorology has issued warnings and alerts for The Bahamas, warning residents of dangerous swells and localized flooding. 

I urge residents in the entire Bahamas to continue to closely monitor alerts issued by the Bahamas Department of Meteorology. 

NEMA will remain activated to continue to monitor Tropical Storm Eta and will continue to provide regular updates.

Thank you and good afternoon.