Prime Minister Minnis – National Address – 28 July 2021

National Address

The Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

8:00 P.M.

Bahamians everywhere. Residents and visitors.

Good evening.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most difficult periods in our nation’s long history.

Even though we are all tired of the pandemic it is not over!   

We are in fact in the middle of a surge.

Throughout the pandemic we have constantly adjusted measures based on the number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths and other indicators.

As the fight continues, we must remain focused on prevention, preparedness and the future.

We continue to be engaged in an aggressive and comprehensive approach just as we have over the past 18 months.

This evening I wish to advise you of a series of public health measures:

– to assist with the care of people hospitalized with COVID-19;

– to limit further spread of the virus; and

– to secure more vaccines.

I also wish to update you on our economic recovery during these trying times.

And I want to ensure you that we are working to protect you while allowing commerce and daily life to continue in a safe and responsible manner.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

In recent weeks, there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases across many regions of the world including in the Caribbean, and much of the Americas.

This has been fueled by the rapid spread of the delta variant.  

This version of the virus spreads easier than previous versions.  

It is causing serious illness.

It is causing increased hospitalizations.

Sadly, it is causing many deaths in places where it has taken hold as the dominant strain. 

Many countries are currently facing an extreme strain on their public health systems and hospitals.

There is no confirmation that the delta variant is in The Bahamas at this time.

But with the quick pace that it has moved around the world we must proceed with an abundance of caution.

In recent weeks we have experienced a significant increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

Our public healthcare system is being stretched to its limits.

Our doctors, nurses and other medical staff are doing all they can to assist those who are sick from the virus.

I again commend and thank our frontline workers for the hard work they are doing.

There have been many women and men of courage, throughout the pandemic.

They remain there day after day, fighting to prevent suffering.

Throughout this pandemic, as your Prime Minister, I acted to save lives and livelihoods. 

My Government has fought to strike a balance between public health interventions and preserving the economy, so that Bahamians could earn a living. 

We provided historic amounts of food aid and unemployment assistance to those in need due to the economic problems caused by the pandemic.

As a people, we must always remember that we belong to each other.

We are each other’s neighbor.

Last Friday, the Minister of Health announced a series of public health measures, as part of our strategy to combat this wave.

These measures were created in consultation with our public health experts.

The human resource and preparedness measures I announce tonight, go along with what was announced by the Minister of Health.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

To augment and to complement the staffing dedicated to the COVID-19 response an additional forty-nine medical staff, along with one hundred and eleven nurses and nursing support staff will be hired shortly. 

 The total cost of these new hires amounts to $7.2 million dollars.

Our plan is to engage as many trained professionals as possible to provide healthcare to Bahamians and residents, and to get shots in arms, as quickly as possible, as our vaccine supply increases.

We are also calling on all retired nurses, doctors and pharmacists to come forward and assist in this, our time of need.

Samaritan’s Purse, a good friend of The Bahamas, greatly assisted us during the second wave of the pandemic.

Given our current situation, I have once again asked them for help.  Their response was immediate and without hesitation. For this, we are very grateful.

Yesterday, an advance team from Samaritan’s Purse carried out a site inspection at the Princess Margaret Hospital with our healthcare officials.

Their objectives were to assess the current operations in the original Samaritan’s Purse medical tents, and to determine how to expand this, to allow for an additional 18 beds, to improve the COVID management care delivery, in the shortest possible time.

I am happy to announce that this coming Friday Samaritan’s Purse will begin erecting the additional 18 beds.

Samaritan’s Purse also sought an understanding of our other clinical needs, with respect to personnel, supplies and essential equipment.

Further, the Public Hospitals Authority, is working with a donor who has offered to provide an additional medical tent. 

Medical tents previously donated by the United States Government for other purposes are being assessed to determine if they can be turned into negative air pressure tents and used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately coupled with a pandemic of misinformation.

Large amounts of fake news and anti-vaccine disinformation, are spreading via the internet and social media.

These falsehoods are helping to lead to serious illness and death by those who base their decisions on this false information.

They are making people afraid of medical science and vaccines.

I want to be very clear to all Bahamians and residents: We are in a struggle between life and death. 

Taking the vaccines, will protect you from serious disease and death.

Listening to fake news about the vaccines, and not getting your shots, could kill you, or cause you serious illness that could be with you, for the rest of your life, no matter how old you are.

The vaccines have been tested.  

They are safe and effective.

There is nothing to be afraid of.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is easy to catch.

As the head of a leading health organization stated: “Viruses have one goal: to multiply.”

Countries will only get out of this pandemic, by vaccinating a large percentage of their populations.

As you can see from our current situation, when large numbers of people get sick at the same time, it is harder for the healthcare system to take care of them.

If you listen to fake news and don’t get the vaccine you may get caught up in a surge when it is hard for the healthcare system to save your life.

Our public health experts recommend you take the vaccine.

Global public health experts recommend that you take the vaccine.

As a medical doctor of 40-plus years, I recommend that you take the vaccine.

Do not listen to fake news over the medical science.

Increasingly, in recent weeks with the spread of the delta variant there have been stories in the international media of people who refused to take the vaccine getting critically ill.

Some, while in intensive care, desperately asked to be vaccinated.

Doctors have had to tell them that sadly it was not possible at that time.

Some of these people have died. 

Some who are very sick or who are dying are now realizing that they weren’t told the truth.

There are those who said COVID-19 was a hoax, that the disease was not real.

That was not true.

Now there are those who are saying false things about the vaccines.

COVIID-19 is not like a mild flu.

Bush medicine will not cure COVID-19 or stop you from catching the virus. 

Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, the Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme, has noted, as reported in a press story that:

 “None of the COVID-19 hospitalized cases at Princess Margaret Hospital, or COVID-19-related deaths, have been individuals who have been fully vaccinated against the virus.”

Our hospitals are filled with real Bahamians who are very sick.

In this wave we have lost people who were our neighbors, coworkers, friends and family.

On behalf of my wife, Patricia, and myself, I offer our deepest condolences to those who have suffered the loss of a family member or loved one.

I also offer the condolences of the Bahamian people.

Please protect yourselves and your families by taking the vaccines.

Just over one billion people in the world are fully vaccinated.

At this time of increased cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the need for people to take the shots is extremelyapparent.

When the new supply arrives, I encourage all eligible Bahamians who have not been vaccinated to come forward quickly, to receive your shots.

This is a life-saving preventative measure that is free.

Come forward quickly to prevent yourselves from needing to come to hospital for treatment.

With a large percentage of Bahamians vaccinated we can begin to return to greater normalcy.

We can also prevent future waves that cause significant and severe disease, many hospitalizations and deaths.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

In a briefing last week Wednesday, Dr. Carissa Etienne, the Director of the Pan-American Health Organization, stated:

“Unfortunately, across Latin America and the Caribbean, only 15 percent of people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and several countries … have yet to reach even one percent.

Dr. Etienne stated:

“And while vaccine donations are on their way to these countries, vaccine coverage remains dangerously low in many more countries across our region.

“We urge donors and international agencies around the world to please help our region secure the vaccines.”

We have been working long and hard for many months and we have been trying to move heaven and earth to secure more vaccines.

We have been notified by the Pan-American Health Organization that the third tranche of pre-paid vaccines, made up of 33,600 doses of AstraZeneca through the COVAX Facility, is expected to arrive in The Bahamas next week.

We are also working very closely with CARICOM, and the United States Government, regarding a donation of vaccines from the US Government.

I have been in direct communication with the Secretary General of CARICOM to ensure that there is no delay in The Bahamas receiving these vaccines.

As soon as we have supplies, the Pfizer vaccine, will be offered to 12-to-17-year-olds, only with the consent of their parents or guardians.

I wish to acknowledge and thank the cruise lines who have used their resources to take hundreds of Bahamians, their employees and residents of multiple Family Islands to the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

This benefits the cruise lines and The Bahamas.

We are grateful for this good corporate citizenship.

I offer special thanks to Antigua and Barbuda, the British Overseas Territories of Montserrat and Anguilla, and the Government of the United Kingdom for assisting us with much-needed vaccine supplies.

Further, The Bahamas Government is working with the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, to help secure equipment and supplies, that will be useful in the next phase of our vaccine roll out.

More than 100,000 Bahamians and residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine here in The Bahamas, since we started our national vaccination program in mid-March of this year.

This includes approximately 27,700 doses in Grand Bahama, and throughout the Family Islands and cays, and 147 to the homebound, through the Mobile Unit.

Vaccinations continue at the Loyola Hall Vaccination Center on Gladstone Road, for second doses.

Fellow Bahamians and Residents: 

Along with coming forward to take the vaccines, I ask two main things of each of you. 

Over the next few weeks, please commit to wearing your masks properly over your mouth and nose while out.

This will help protect you and those around you.

Secondly, I ask each of you to limit your contacts with others outside of your household.

When you don’t need to be out, stay at home.

By limiting our contacts, we lessen the chance of being exposed to someone with the virus.

And if you have COVID-19 and don’t know you do, by limiting your contacts you lessen the chance of you spreading it to large numbers of other individuals.

I have given instructions to the Secretary to the Cabinet to instruct all Permanent Secretaries, to implement a schedule, be it shift or otherwise, that allows public servants to work from home, where possible.

I encourage all private sector companies to adopt the same protocols, to the greatest extent possible, to help control and to slow the spread of COVID-19.

I ask businesses, churches and other organizations to continue to maintain standards and protocols that will help in our fight.

We are asking you to do the things that will allow us to continue to open-up and to press forward our economic revival and recovery.  

I thank the religious community and all of our civic partners who have helped in this effort so far.

My Fellow Bahamians and Residents:

I wish to inform you that the Ministry of Health has taken further steps to enhance the staff providing contact tracing services.

The Ministry has added an experienced epidemiologist to the team on the ground, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization.

This individual will provide much needed support and clinical direction, to the surveillance of identified cases, as well as their identified contacts.

It is clear, that this effort is essential in tracking down individuals, who are known to present a risk to the general public.

Additional efforts to supplement the team include the interview, training and orientation over the past few weeks of more than 40 individuals to be added to the contact tracing team.

These individuals have been provided the skills to augment the hardworking nurses, physicians and other personnel currently delivering our contact tracing efforts.

We look forward to their imminent engagement by the Ministry of Health, to bring them on in a fulltime capacity.

As these individuals are brought on board the team will be moved to a new location to accommodate the larger number of individuals, while maintaining appropriate social distancing, as occurred with the use of Melia during the second wave.

The Ministry of Health also works in partnership with the Ministry of National Security, to identify individuals, who are not complying with quarantine and isolation directives.

A new geofencing application is being rolled out, to replace the Hubbcat system to provide a technological solution to monitoring those who remain non-compliant.

Adhering to the instructions when directed to quarantine or isolate, is critical to stopping new infections.

Remember, the virus travels with individuals.

If individuals stay at home and away from others the virus will not spread to others.

My Fellow Bahamian and Residents:

We have been living in a time of unprecedented economic upheaval.  

Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic have been the two biggest economic shocks to hit The Bahamas in recorded history.

In response my Government articulated and executed the Resilient Bahamas Plan that saw tens of millions of dollars spent in the health care sector to address the health and safety needs of Bahamians throughout the country.  

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent:  

– to give food to those requiring assistance;

– to provide extended and direct cash support, for those who lost their jobs, because of COVID-19; and

– to cover the payroll of over 14,000 Bahamians, during the worst of the pandemic to enable them, to keep their existing jobs. 

Our Plan also worked to ensure economic and monetary stability as we navigated this most difficult period in our modern history.

As a result, our foreign reserves remain at near record highs, of just over $2.6 billion dollars. 

Through the worst of economic times our Bahamian dollar remains strong.

Fortunately, as we continue to battle the pandemic we are seeing a substantial rebound in the Bahamian economy.  

We are not back to where we were before the pandemic.

There is much more work to do.

We are working hard to get more Bahamians back to work.

Yet, through God’s good grace, through the resilience of the Bahamian people, and through careful management, the country is moving toward a greater degree of regular economic activity.

Air travel visitors have returned in large numbers. 

We are benefiting from the temporary home porting arrangements, which bring in thousands of visitors every week, as the cruise industry begins to come back to the region.

As was reported recently, the confidence in The Bahamas, and in the measures we took remains strong internationally. 

 The World Investment Report 2021 indicates that The Bahamas was the global leader among small island nations for attracting inward investment during the pandemic. 

Across the world, small island developing states taken together, saw a contraction in investments of some 40 percent.

Here in The Bahamas, we saw inward investments of $897 million in 2020, representing a 47 percent year on year increase.

This outpaced our closest counterpart, by half a billion dollars.

It is this ongoing foreign investment, along with the more than $60 million we invested in Bahamian small businesses during this term, that is fueling our economic rebound and recovery.

Bahamians are going back to work. 

Small businesses are starting to recover. 

New tourism properties are opening.

As part of the Accelerate Bahamas economic plan in the recent National Budget, we are expanding tax concessions to small businesses, and an additional $35 million in funding support.

Fellow Bahamians:

Over the last six-month period, from January to June 2021, we have seen our revenue numbers, beat their budget targets by tens of millions of dollars.

This is after the revenue numbers, had fallen substantially behind their budgeted numbers, in the prior six months.

I am pleased to advise, that with still a few days left, the preliminary revenue numbers for the month of July, are millions ahead of our budget projections.  

In fact, they are not far off the similar point in July 2019, before Hurricane Dorian and the pandemic. 

 The recent revenue performance points to an economy that is gradually but certainly regaining its footing.  

While we are still not back to full economic capacity, The Bahamas has set a course for, and is headed toward economic recovery.  

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

As a people of faith, we all know the Good Samaritan story from the Bible.

A lawyer asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responded with a powerful story in the Gospel of Luke.

The man in the ditch was, “a traveler who is stripped of [his] clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road.

Both the Jewish priest and a Levite passed by.

Both of them avoided the man, who was in desperate need. 

They were indifferent, to their neighbor. 

They left him, possibly to die.

We might recall, that during the time of Jesus, that the Samaritans and the Jewish people were sworn enemies.

They despised each other.

Yet, it was the Samaritan who came to the rescue of the man in the ditch.

At the end of the story Jesus commands and invites us, “Go and do likewise!”

It is the Samaritan who teaches us as a people of Christian faith, love and charity, about who our neighbor is, especially during this terrible pandemic.

Neighbors help each other, to live and to survive.

Neighbors show compassion and mercy to those in need.

We are more than fellow-citizens. 

Bahamian families are tied together by blood and by history.

We are connected through fellowship and kinship.

We are a small country, a Commonwealth, a Family of Islands.

Our neighbors are the people next door, and down the street.

Our neighbors, are the health care and medical professionals, putting their lives at risk, to save our lives.

Our neighbors are the police and defence force officers who serve us, the teachers, who instruct our children, and the public officers and private sector citizens, we work with.

Our neighbors are those with whom we worship, with whom we socialize, and with whom we volunteer.

The Samaritan sacrificed himself for his neighbor, who was a stranger. 

Today our neighbors are at risk from COVID.

Today our neighbors are dying from COVID.

I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you in a spirit of love and unity, to get vaccinated, to protect and to save your life, and to protect and to save the life of your neighbor.

I believe the Samaritan’s Purse organization that has come to our aid during Hurricane Dorian, and during COVID-19, sees us as their neighbor.

They go around the world offering the love of Jesus to those in need, especially during international disasters and crises.

In the spirit of the Gospel, and in keeping with the example and compassion of Samaritan’s Purse, let us go and do likewise for our fellow-Bahamians and neighbors.

The more of us who become vaccinated, the more lives we can save.

In this we can truly be the Body of Christ.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We need your help at the critical hour. 

The Government cannot do this alone.

I cannot do this alone.

To protect our economy and to get you and your neighbors, and family members back to work, I need your help.

To get schools reopened safely in September for our children, we need your help.

To save your life, and that of your neighbor we need your help.

Throughout this extraordinary and prolonged pandemic we have instituted a variety of aggressive and comprehensive measures to protect and to save lives and livelihoods.  

We continue to adjust measures, depending on the circumstances.

Please abide by the public health rules.

Please get vaccinated when the new vaccines arrive.

Please wear your mask and avoid large gatherings.

Let us be disciplined and resilient.

Encourage your loved ones and neighbors to get vaccinated, including getting their second dose.

I know some people don’t like needles.  I don’t like needles, but it didn’t hurt, and you will be okay.

As your Government, each decision we made over the past year-and-a-half, was to protect your lives and to preserve your future.

Please ignore the fake news.

Please stay safe.

In these dark and difficult times, let us embrace the Light of Jesus Christ and the light of hope.

May God bless our Bahamas. 

Thank you and good evening.