Prime Minister’s Press Conference from Grand Bahama – 7 September 2020

The Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis

Prime Minister

Monday, 7 September 2020

Office of the Prime Minister

Freeport, Grand Bahama

Residents of Grand Bahama;

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press:

        This afternoon, I want to provide Grand Bahama, the country and the media with a number of updates on the ongoing and phased reopening of the country and the economy, including a number of changes to the Emergency Orders.

I came here to personally thank the people of Grand Bahama for your cooperation during the various lockdown periods.

Your actions and community spirit made an extraordinary difference in arresting the community spread of COVID-19.

        Thank you for your sacrifices.

Thank you for your determination.

Thank you for your resilience during this most difficult time.

        I know it has been very hard for so many people. 

But your sacrifices and discipline have made a tremendous difference.

It is important for you to keep doing what you are doing.

COVID-19 will be part of our lives for some time.

We have to learn to live with it.

We must strike the responsible balance between keeping our economy open and practicing the public health measures so the spread of the virus is kept as low as possible.

We all know the rules: wash or sanitize your hands regularly; wear your masks properly over your nose and mouth; stay physically distant from others; do not attend mass gatherings.

Continue to make the public health guidance a regular part of your lives.

Please urge your family and friends to do the same.

The more we keep the virus suppressed, the more normalcy there will be to our lives.

        Let me also thank all of the public and private officials, including medical and security personnel, feeding networks, businesses, officials at OPM (Grand Bahama) and others who worked in a spirit of unity.

        It is with enormous gratitude and admiration, that I thank all of you.

The people of Grand Bahama demonstrated a “we should” solidarity and attitude.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

        Today, I am pleased to announce a number of amendments to the Emergency Orders, which apply to all islands in the Second Schedule except for New Providence, where we are still working to lower the community spread of COVID-19.

These changes apply to: Grand Bahama, Abaco, Acklins, Andros, the Berry Islands, Bimini, Cat Island, Crooked Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Inagua and Mayaguana.

Businesses, agencies, establishments and institutions will be able to operate subject to the safety protocols, with few exceptions that are high risk activities.  

        The high-risk prohibited businesses continue to be: casinos, bars, discos, cinemas, gyms, regattas, festivals and similar activities. 

The new amendments mean that:

Retailers will be able to offer in-store services.

Restaurants will be able to offer indoor dining services, provided they follow the physical distancing, mask wearing and sanitization protocols in the Orders.  

Fish Fry establishments will continue with take away and curb side services only.

The changes announced today mean that businesses that had not been permitted to open or that were opened with restrictions may now operate, following the public health measures.

They may determine their operating hours, operating from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., except for New Providence.

Let me again note that the risk of spreading COVID-19 is higher with regard to indoor activities, and lower in regard to outdoor activities.

This is why we have continued to make certain distinctions in terms of outdoor and indoor activities.

In keeping with theses distinctions, I note that residents on all islands in the second schedule, except for New Providence, may have small social gatherings of up to a maximum of ten people.  We encourage you to do so in a safe manner.

Residents on all islands in the Second Schedule will now be able to exercise outdoors in their neighborhoods from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.  This includes New Providence. 

Residents on all islands, including New Providence, will be able to participate in outdoor group exercise between 5 a.m. to noon.

Residents on all islands, including New Providence, will also be able to visit the beaches and parks for slightly extended hours, daily from 5 a.m. to noon.

Let me note a number of amendments which apply to the entire country.

Charters are now allowed, including inter-island charters, provided that individuals comply with the inter-island travel Orders. 

Inter-island commercial air travel may resume as normal as of this Wednesday, the 9th of September. 

COVID-19 negative test results are no longer required for inter-island travel, except for those travelling from New Providence. This is subject to change.

However, individuals traveling from the islands included in the second schedule, including Grand Bahama, will continue to be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival at their destination.

To be clear, if individuals travel to New Providence and seek to return to any other island they will be required to obtain a COVID-19 RTPCR negative test result.

Private medical facilities and dentists are able to provide services outside of the curfew hours and medical services during the curfew hours in an emergency. 

Worship services are now allowed in sanctuary for New Providence, following the health measures and guidelines for such services.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We remain much focused on Grand Bahama.

We know the economic struggles you have endured for many years. 

Some of the largest economic concessions were provided for the residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco following Hurrican Dorrian.  They were both declared Economic Recovery Zones.

We continue to work hard to rejuvenate Grand Bahama.

The two major investment projects approved for Grand Bahama include: the ITM Group, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Lucaya Hotel Project, and the Carnival Corporation Project.

I am pleased to report that we remain positively engaged with our development partners on these Projects.

They remain committed to the implementation of these Projects, which I will have more to say about in the weeks ahead.

The Government is continuing discussions with Hutchison Ports along with the Grand Bahama Port Authority to finalize an agreement on the best way forward in rebuilding a world-class Grand Bahama Airport.

Indeed, we are preparing the entire country for reopening and rejuvenation post-COVID-19.

Just last week we signed the Heads of Agreement for the $400-million-dollar Jack’s Bay development for South Eleuthera, which is a Bahamian-owned investment.

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

The Government remains committed to providing emergency food assistance during the pandemic.

The Grand Bahama Food Task Force through the Feed Grand Bahama program continues to assist those in need in the community.

I am advised that this program has distributed over 12,000 vouchers to thousands in need totaling approximately $1 million dollars.

        The Department of Social Services in Grand Bahama and The National Insurance Board in Grand Bahama have made significant payouts to residents affected by Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.   

The Disaster Reconstruction Authority’s Small Home Repair Program has approved approximately 2,000 Grand Bahamians for repairs. 

We continue to invest in critical infrastructure to improve the lives of Grand Bahamians.

$4.5 million in contracts were awarded in June 2020 for major reconstruction to 15 schools on Grand Bahama.

$21 million has been allocated for the phased redevelopment of the Rand Memorial Hospital.

Work is steadily progressing with demolition, new construction, additions, and renovations.  

The Fishing Hole Road Bridge has been completed and officially opened.

While we are making progress on Grand Bahama, there is still much to do.

COVID-19 may have delayed our ambitious and comprehensive plans for Grand Bahama.

But once we have beaten back this virus, our plans will come into full force.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

While I am pleased that most Bahamians are listening to the public health advice, a number of us are still engaging in high-risk behavior such as getting together for parties.

I wish to remind the public on every island that wearing a mask in public places is mandatory.

The police will be enforcing these measures, including issuing tickets for those in violation.

The fine for not wearing a mask is $250.

As it relates to construction sites, the police will be monitoring sites to ensure mask wearing protocols are being followed by all construction workers.

Construction operations will now be fined for non-compliance with the Orders related to mask wearing and other physical distancing protocols established by the Bahamas Construction Association as approved by the Ministry of Health.  

On a second infraction, the fine will be doubled.  On the third infraction, the construction project may be closed down.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish to once again offer condolences to the families of all those who have lost loved ones because of this deadly virus.

Let us continue to pray for all of those in hospital or at home who are ill and those recovering from the virus.

At every opportunity, I want to thank the health care and medical officials who have been on the frontline of this battle from the beginning of the pandemic.

They too have demonstrated the spirit of “we should”.  They are the face and the spirit of courage and resilience.

I want to again discourage large social gatherings and parties.

We are able to relax or we must implement more restrictive measures depending on what we do together to limit the spread of COVID-19, which you see from the news is still very much out of control in many countries in the world.

There are a number of very ill people in our hospitals.  This virus has lasting effects, some of which we still do not know about and which may do damage for a long time or lifetime.

        This is why I keep asking you to be safe and to take care of yourselves.

In this phase of our reopening, we each have the ability to lessen or to increase our risk of infection and the risk of infecting others.

Let me close with this powerful example I heard from the parent of a daughter who was due to return overseas to complete her university studies.

This young lady agreed not to return to school this semester, not because she feared getting seriously ill from the virus.

She agreed not to return at this time because she did not want to help spread the virus to others including older people.

This is the quality of sacrifice, the strength of character and the generosity of spirit we all need to combat this deadly virus.

I again thank all Bahamians and residents, including here on Grand Bahama, who have been their brother’s and sister’s keepers.

We will re-merge from this battle to restore our country, stronger, together.

Thank you.