REMARKS: Emergency Orders Extension – House of Assembly

House of Assembly Debate

New Emergency Proclamation

The Most Hon. Dr. Hubert Minnis

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

11 August 2021

Mr. Speaker:

        May I begin my Contribution on extending the Emergency Orders for a final time with the following important announcement.

Yesterday evening, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), informed the Government of The Bahamas, that tomorrow, Thursday, August 12th, 2021, The Bahamas will receive 128,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine donated by the Government of The United States of America.

The vaccines are due to arrive by flight at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.

I thank the U.S. Government for this generous donation, including the assistance of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau.

I also thank CARPHA, our regional public health partner, for facilitating this donation. 

It is important to note that the Pfizer vaccine will also be available to 12 to 17-year-olds with the consent of a parent or guardian.

I advised in my National Address on Monday that we had concluded negotiations to bring in a substantial number of new vaccines. 

Along with the doses we will receive tomorrow, the vaccine supply we already received, and other doses on the way, over the next weeks and months we will have the capacity to vaccinate all Bahamians and residents who wish to receive the vaccine.

Our vaccine supply will allow us to give a significant percentage of our population protection.

This will in time lessen the likelihood that we will have large-scale surges that cause extremely high hospitalizations. 

The arrival of these vaccines is extraordinary news.

It is some of the best news we have received during this pandemic.

This is a part of the hope my Government has been working toward for many months.

With regard to vaccines, we are nearing the full capacity to bring much of the emergency period of the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

We now have even more compelling hope in the midst of this most difficult surge and stage of the pandemic.

Mr. Speaker:

        May I now reiterate some of the key points from my National Address this past Monday.

A year-and-a-half into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is facing what appears to be the worst variant of the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus.   

It has swept across the globe, wreaking havoc in country after country and continent after continent.

It is causing surging cases in quick time, resulting in record hospitalizations and many deaths.

Parts of North America are dealing with surges.

Countries in the Caribbean have had to impose new restrictions to combat increased cases.

The variant has hit Southeast Asia particularly hard, with cases in some countries soaring to record numbers.

Parts of Africa and Europe are battling increased virus transmission.

We do not yet have official confirmation that the more contagious delta variant is here.

But, out of an abundance of great caution, we must assume that our recent surge is part of the same battle being faced in other countries. 

As in many other countries, including regional neighbors, we are now experiencing historic numbers in this pandemic.

In the past few weeks, we have experienced a significant increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

More of us know someone sick with COVID-19.   

More of us know someone battling for his or her life in hospital. 

Sadly, more of us know someone who has died from the disease.   

This is a difficult and painful time for so many families.

This surge has taken our public healthcare system to its limit.

Mr. Speaker:

It was the intention of my Government, that depending on the state of the pandemic, we would move toward concluding the use of the Emergency Orders this month and to transition to a new legislative framework as more Bahamians were vaccinated.

The surge in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, has required us to temporarily adjust our plans in order to immediately save Bahamian lives and to protect our economy.

My Government has set a plan to further combat this wave and to transition the country to a new post-Emergency Orders regime after this deadly surge subsides. 

As a result of the arrival of new vaccine supplies, including the 128,700 doses due to arrive tomorrow, we will be able to begin the transition process away from the Emergency Orders.

Today, I wish to restate that my Government is seeking the approval of Parliament for one final extension of the Emergency Orders. 

This will be the last extension of these Orders.

After approval by Parliament, I note that the Emergency Orders will end, at the very latest, on Saturday, November 13th, 2021.

Mr. Speaker:

Yesterday, I tabled for consultation the new proposed legal regime for The Bahamas with the end of the Emergency Orders.

The Bill tabled is: the Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Management Bill, 2021. 

Let me emphasize that this is only a draft. 

It is not the final Bill. 

We seek the contributions and advice of the Official Opposition.

We seek the input of the religious community, businesses, NGOs, labor unions, other organizations and individuals so we can make the legislation as comprehensive and effective as possible.

We look forward to the contributions of the Bahamian people.

Again, I emphasize that the Bill is being tabled for consultation.

Mr. Speaker:

A total of 1,689 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered yesterday in The Bahamas of which 1,225 or 73 percent were first doses and 464, or 27 percent, were second doses.

These were doses administered in New Providence and Grand Bahama yesterday.  

        There are over 7,500 appointments available and booked for this week for New Providence and Grand Bahama.

I wish to remind residents of these islands that walk-up appointments are available at the Church of God of Prophecy on East Street, and St. Anselm’s Parish on Bernard Road on New Providence, and the Susan J. Wallace Community Center on Grand Bahama.

As of yesterday, the 10th of August, The Bahamas has administered a total of 111,305 doses of the vaccine.

In due course we will make a number of announcements on the roll-out of additional vaccines, including the Pfizer vaccine.

 Let me note here one other public health measure.

Because their cases numbers have improved, the curfew hours for Bimini are being moved from 7 p.m. – 5 a.m., to 9 p.m. to 5.a.m, as is the case on New Providence and Grand Bahama. 

This is effective today, Wednesday, August 11th, 2021.

Mr. Speaker:

In most democratic countries, national constitutions provide for emergency powers.

Wisely, our Founding Fathers did likewise.

They recognized there would be emergency periods when such measures were needed to protect the Bahamian people.

Throughout the course of this terrible and deadly pandemic, governments around the world have utilized and applied an extraordinary range of emergency measures to protect and to save their citizens.

This included unprecedented health, social, economic and public safety measures.

My Government did the same.

We learned from other countries and from the history of previous pandemics.

We adopted what we thought was best for The Bahamas.

We did so in consultation with public health officials at home and international experts.

Some democratic countries used certain restrictive measures for even much longer periods of time.

The Bahamas was mightily blessed and fortunate to have the expertise of Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, one of the region’s leading experts in epidemiology and public health.

Like our Olympic gold medalists and other world champions, Dr. Dahl-Regis is world class and a Bahamian champion.

The COVID-19 pandemic remains an unprecedented modern health emergency.

It is the worst global pandemic since the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

The COVID-19 worldwide pandemic resulted in an unprecedented economic collapse, the likes of which we have not experienced since the Great Depression of the 1920s.

It was significantly worse than the Great Recession of 2008.

The former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers noted last year that: “The COVID-19 pandemic will exact a $16 trillion dollar toll on the U.S. – four times the cost of the Great Recession – when adding the costs of lost lives and health to the direct economic impact.”

International tourism, the lifeblood of our economy, came to an abrupt and grinding halt during the pandemic.

While the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States of America caused severe economic pain, the COVID-19 pandemic was much worse by a considerable magnitude for The Bahamas.

The synchronized global economic meltdown caused by COVID-19 brought the world to its knees.

Our economy and government revenue collapsed precisely at the time when there was a need for huge sums of money to take care of the public health needs and the social needs of Bahamians.

My Government had to fight every day, and week after week, to maintain a balance between public health interventions and preserving the economy so that Bahamians could earn a living.

We are fighting still to maintain this balance!

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

We articulated and executed the Resilient Bahamas Plan.

As a part of this Plan tens of millions of dollars was spent in the health care sector to address the health and safety needs of Bahamians throughout the country.

We recently added an additional seven million dollars to boost the capacity of our health care system.

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 job.

        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. 

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

During the pandemic, we went big. 

We borrowed what the country needed, despite unconvincing and at times seemingly insincere criticism by some.

Just as in most countries in the world, we kept our economy alive through necessary public spending.

No public officers were laid off.

We made the big and right decisions.

We kept faith with the Bahamian people.

Mr. Speaker:

        We acted quickly and decisively in The Bahamas to save lives and livelihoods.

The Bahamas was one of the first countries in the world to make mask wearing mandatory.

Even as some countries and jurisdictions have removed mask requirements, we are still using this measure.

We know that wearing masks properly and consistently early prevents infection and saves lives when properly used.

Before there were effective vaccines, the world had to use emergency measures like masks, social distancing, quarantines, curfews, lockdowns and other measures.

Without the Emergency Orders, many more Bahamians would have gotten sick and died.

This was a clear choice between life and death.

Throughout most of human history, before the invention of vaccines, such public health measures were the primary ways to save lives.

From the outset of the pandemic, governments in the Caribbean, the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific, all used some mixture of these emergency measures and orders.

Many countries in the world currently have even more stringent emergency measures than The Bahamas does at this time.

Some countries have been in perpetual lockdowns for nearly two years.

A major city in one Commonwealth country is in its seventh lockdown.

Government and opposition parties often cooperated in passing various emergency orders. 

In some countries there was considerable cooperation.

While there was some cooperation by the Official Opposition at the outset, for the most part, the Leader of the Opposition and the PLP were, in my view, mostly non-cooperative.

While the country was trying to reach for its finest and best hours to defeat this deadly disease, the PLP appeared to reach for its lowest and its worst hours.

This is a shameful period for the PLP.

It is a shameful period for a party that boasts of its nationalist credentials but demonstrated some of its worst instincts when the country deserved more and was in peril and in great need.

Only the most reckless and irresponsible individuals would recommend the removal of measures that save lives.

Only the most reckless and irresponsible would ignore the medical advice and instead play petty politics with people’s lives.

It is difficult to take seriously those who appear not to understand the necessity for certain emergency orders.

My Government has been measured with these legal, constitutional and democratic measures.

We have continued to ask Parliament for authorization as allowed in our constitution and laws.

We have only utilized necessary rules to keep Bahamians and residents safe.

We are here to save lives not to play games nor to pander.

Mr. Speaker:

My Government follows the science.

We make policy with our public health advisors.

Our public health experts have briefings in which they share the science with the entire country. 

The virus changes the situation constantly. 

As governments, we have to keep adapting to the new realities before us.

We have to be agile and adjust policies as the virus changes the circumstances. 

When virus circulation decreases, we are able to loosen with less restrictions. 

No one likes restrictions. 

However, when the virus is resurgent or a new variant of concern emerges, governments have to tighten up requirements in order to beat back a potential wave. 

Certain restrictions help to suppress waves by enforcing distancing between people. 

For example, if there were no curfew and no rules, people could be out until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning in crowded nightclubs spreading the virus. 

With a curfew people are at home. 

Their contacts are limited to just the people at their home for those hours. 

The curfew enforces physical distancing from others. 

Mr. Speaker: 

I wish to encourage each member in this chamber to get vaccinated. 

Each of us was elected to the House of Assembly by the people to represent them.   

We all love our country.  

I invite members to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.  

I also ask each Member of Parliament to aggressively spread the word to get their constituents vaccinated. 

When we speak, we should encourage vaccinations!

When we campaign, we should encourage vaccinations!

We should use our platforms on social media and otherwise to encourage our people to take the shots as quickly as possible. 

It will take the united urging of all of us to get our vaccination level high and to break the back of this pandemic.

As elected officials we must be unified with the “let’s get vaccinated” message. 

There is so much fake news and misinformation out there confusing our people. 

This fake news is killing people because it is scaring them from taking the vaccines. 

As the people’s elected representatives, we must be strong in our collective voice encouraging Bahamians to take the shots to save their lives! 

Our words of encouragement and support could be the deciding factor in shifting some from hesitancy to getting protected. 

Mr. Speaker:

The battle we were in, and in which we remain, required: material weapons such as masks; medical weapons such as vaccines and other pharmaceuticals; public safety measures such as enforcement; social measures such as food assistance; and economic measures such as unemployment assistance and business grants and loans.

The Emergency Orders allowed for these life-sustaining and life-enhancing measures.

But there were other tools, weapons, measures and instruments we needed during these long and trying months that were not material.

We needed spiritual weapons like the Fruit of the Spirit, including: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We needed virtues like: discipline, foresight, courage, prudence, a commitment to social justice and resilience.

We needed the master gifts from Almighty God of hope and faith.

Fortified by all of these measures, these virtues, these Fruit of the Spirit and these gifts of faith, we will triumph and we will overcome.

Though we have many difficult days and long nights ahead, the arrival of more vaccines and the huge number of Bahamians coming forward to get vaccinated, mark a new phase in the pandemic.

Despite the present moment, there is compelling and audacious hope on the horizon.

We will not yield and we will not falter until this battle is won.

I support the Resolution extending the Emergency Orders for a final time.

May God bless you and this House, Mr. Speaker.

And may God bless our Bahamas.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.