Bahamas News

House of Assembly Covid-19 Communication by Bahamas Prime Minister, Dr. Hon Hubert Minnis – April 27, 2020

Mr. Speaker:
The House meets today to approve a
Resolution extending emergency powers in
The Bahamas because of the COVID-19
global pandemic.

I also wish to provide the House and the
Bahamian people with an update on a range of matters in my Government’s ongoing, full
and comprehensive response to the
pandemic.

Mr. Speaker:
The House meets today to approve a
Resolution extending emergency powers in
The Bahamas because of the COVID-19
global pandemic.

I wish at the outset to offer the
condolences of the country and my personal
condolences to those who have lost loved
ones to this deadly virus.
They remain in our hearts and prayers.

Mr. Speaker:
The Resolution before the House: (a.) approves the continuance of the
Proclamation made on the 17th day of
March, 2020 until the 30th day of May, 2020;

(b.) affirms the continuance in effect of
the Emergency Powers (Covid 19)
Regulations, 2020 made on the 17th day of
March, 2020 until the 30th day of May, 2020;

(c.) affirms the continuance in effect of
the Emergency Powers (Covid 19) (No. 2)
Order, 2020 made on the 23rd day of March,
2020 until the 30th day of May, 2020;
(d) affirms the continuance in effect of
the Emergency Powers (Covid 19) (Special
Provisions) Order, 2020 made on the 30th
day of March, 2020 until the 30th day of 2020

Dr. Hon. Hubert A. Minnis – Bahamas Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker:
I know that some will be disappointed by
the extension of the Emergency Orders,
including workers and businesses who are
hurting.
But I assure them, and I assure all
Bahamians and residents, that this short
term sacrifice and pain is absolutely needed:

  • to reduce the spread of the virus;
  • to protect the health and safety of those
  • we love; and
  • to revive our economy as quickly as
    possible.

Mr. Speaker:
We must always be people of gratitude
because therein lies a source of spiritual
strength and generosity.

On behalf of the people and the
Government, and on my own behalf, we will
never cease nor tire, from expressing our
profound gratitude to the health care
professionals at every level who battle daily
against this virus.

These men and women place
themselves at risk day after day to save lives
and to heal their fellow citizens and
residents.

They are heroes who never expected to
be called to such a duty, but who are
nonetheless serving us all in one of our
greatest hours of need.

Members of the Royal Bahamas Police, Photo by BIS

We owe gratitude also to all the men and
women in our law enforcement branches,
who help to ensure law and order, especially
during these challenging times.

I salute all public officers who continue to
perform their duties in every government
ministry and agency.

I salute also private citizens, and those
businesses who have demonstrated
generosity of spirit and an unwavering
commitment to the common good.
This includes those business enterprises
that continue to sustain and to support staff
members and workers during this terrible
and devastating economic downturn.

Xray Machines donated to Grand Bahama Health Services with help of the Grand Bahamas Port Authority

I appeal once again to those businesses
and citizens with a capacity to do so, to
continue to support their workers and
employees. This is a time for national solidarity!

Mr. Speaker:
As we said at the beginning of the spread
of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, among our
best measures for fighting this outbreak are
measures such as: staying at home, physical
distancing, and other vital measures such as
curfews and lockdowns.

Contact tracing, and the temporary
quarantine and isolation of those exposed to
the virus are also vital measures to arrest the
spread of the virus and to save and to protect
lives.

I join the Minister of Health in recognizing
the outstanding and valiant work of the
Surveillance officers at the Ministry of
Health.

In our fight against COVID-19 we should
not only praise our health care professionals
and law enforcement officers.
As a sign of our gratitude, we join them in
the fight against the virus by staying at home
and by wearing our masks and practicing
discipline and social distancing.
We must all do our part.
This is a time for solidarity.

I wish to remind Bahamians and
residents that the shopping schedule of the
last two weeks remains.
The weekday curfews and weekend
lock downs will continue until health officials
advise otherwise.

I thank those businesses, employees and
all who have complied with the regulations.

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Mr. Speaker:
As of 25th April 2020, there are almost
800 individuals in quarantine.
To optimize the intent of the quarantine
and isolation period, and to simultaneously
enhance the support and monitoring of those
in quarantine, the Ministry of Health has
undertaken the exploration of a number of
solutions that are fit-for-purpose.

It is envisaged that through the simple
action of downloading an App, quarantined
and isolated individuals could use their
cellphones in a manner similar to a walkie
talkie.
With the touch of a single button they
may:

With the touch of a single button they
may:

  • Connect instantly with care agents
  • Send an emergency assist alert for rapid response and
  • Talk to Family and Friends in a secured space.

This App will be designed to help
individuals in home quarantine and isolation
to stay within the boundaries prescribed by
the Surveillance team.
This may further empower these
individuals to do their part to protect their
mother, father, sister, brother, neighbor and
fellow citizens, and reduce the risk of
exposure to and spread of COVID-19 within
the country.

I underscore that this App will collect
anonymous data to ensure that the privacy
of those using the App is respected.
Health officials have repeatedly noted
that a number of those who should remain in
quarantine or isolation at home are not doing
so, which could result in greater spread of
the virus.

I note that the Emergency Orders have
been amended to enforce strict fines for
those who break quarantine protocols.
Those who break quarantine will fined up
to $20,000 or five years imprisonment or
both.

Mr. Speaker:
We know from other jurisdictions how
rapidly COVID-19 spread in other countries
or locales because individuals who were
COVID-19 positive returned to their home
countries without being quarantined.

We cannot risk doing this in The
Bahamas because this could lead to a wider
outbreak of the virus.
I know that this has placed a burden on
some Bahamians overseas.
I understand the frustration and worry of
their families here at home.
We are working to try to resolve this
matter in the best interest of all concerned
and the best interest of the country.
In keeping with the protocols of other
countries, the Government is finalizing plans
to secure a mandatory quarantine facility to
accommodate the return of a number of
Bahamians in the United States to New
Providence.
At present there are 200 Bahamians who
want to return home.
Mr. Speaker:
To emphasize the need to reduce
community spread of this deadly virus I wish
to share with the House the Assessment by
health officials of the Analysis of confirmed
COVID-19 cases by Dr. Danny Davis, an
Associate Professor at the University of the
Bahamas.

The Government’s COVID-19 Coordinator
Dr. Dahl-Regis provided notes
regarding the impact of the restrictive
measures put in place to mitigate the spread
of Coronavirus 19 throughout the islands of
The Bahamas.
She noted: The Ministry of Health tested all symptomatic and suspect cases of Covid-19 as recommended by the World Health Organization.

“During the period prior to the curfew restrictions, the country recorded increase number of cases every other day, then daily. Following the first lock down period there was a decrease in new cases. According to the exponential curve, at least 23 cases were averted with the imposition of the restrictive measures. Additionally, lives were saved.

Dr. Dahl-Regis forwarded the Report
from Dr. Davis, noting that: “Models were developed with his support and a team from PAHO, the Ministry of Health and other international statisticians and mathematicians, Dr. Davis’ report notes:

“Building on the assertion that the
difference between the predicted curve and
the actual value is attributed to social
distancing measures, it follows that social
distancing resulted in an estimated reduction
to 23 new cases by Day 27 (April 9, 2020). This is a 36% reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases. The aforementioned estimated the reduction of 23 translates into an
estimated reduction of four deaths over this
past week. This death reduction estimate is based on the country’s fatality record of eight (8) deaths per 41 confirmed cases. Without the social distancing measures, we estimate the country would have recorded 12 deaths by Day 27. These unrealized deaths represent a 33% reduction in the case load for the doctors and hospital resources, and demand for beds. Mr. Speaker:
My Government will do all that we can to
protect the vulnerable in our society.
This is a time for national solidarity.

As previously announced, the
Government is appointing a National Food
Committee, which will consult widely with
many stakeholders in numerous fields.
The major objective of the National Food
Committee is to steer the coordination and
collaboration of the public sector, private
sector and NGOs to increase food
distribution nationally and fairly.
This includes, in the immediate term,
distribution of food for vulnerable individuals
and communities.
We must ensure that the poor and those
struggling through the current economic
downturn because of the pandemic have
suffecient nutritious food.
We must also ensure that those affected
by Hurricane Dorian also continue to have
food.
I wish to emphasize that many more
Bahamians are vulnerable to food insecurity
as a result of COVID-19.
This includes, but is not limited to:

  • the newly unemployed;
  • self-employed individuals whose
    businesses are adversely affected;
  • senior citizens unable to leave their
    homes because of the virus;
  • school children who do not have
    sufficient food;
  • some patients and those who provide
    them with care at home;

Mr. Speaker:
The National Food Committee will
coordinate with various food sector agencies
and groups for the distribution of food to the
vulnerable.

These agencies and groups include, but
are not limited to: the Ministry and
Department of Social Services, the Ministry
of Health, the Ministry of Education, the
National Emergency Management Agency,
the Disaster Recovery Authority, domestic
and international NGOS, civil society groups,
philanthropic organizations, and private
citizens and businesses.

The National Food Committee will help to
determine the need for engagement of food
workers, both formally and informally, to help
with the preparation and distribution of food.

The Committee will make
recommendations on the delivery of food for
vulnerable individuals.

This will be done in consultation with the
Ministry of Health and the Head of the
COVID-19 Health Taskforce.

Mr. Speaker:
The Committee will communicate with
wholesalers and retailers to confirm the
status of food supply chains to the country,
and make recommendations on how to keep
these supply chains viable.

The Committee will put together a digital
food distribution plan to make sure that every
Bahamian in need is provided with food.
Let me add that the Government will
promote and strengthen industries in pork,
poultry and beef, and is committed to
protecting local industries.
Further, the Food Committee will also
make recommendations on the
enhancement of delivery services and the
kinds of digital platforms required to boost
home delivery.

Mr. Speaker:
I am pleased that Mrs. Susan Holowesko
Larson, M.B.E., has agreed to serve as
Coordinator of the Committtee. Mrs.
Holowesko Larson has an impressive record
of public service.
She is a Co-Founder of Ride for Hope
Bahamas and the Bahamas Hope
Foundation, which raises hope and
resources for Bahamians fighting cancer.
She is also a Co-Founder of Bahamas
Strong, which was established last year in
response to the unprecedented destruction
caused by Hurricane Dorian. She helped to spearhead the country’s
private sector response to Dorian as well as
the initial coordination of the international
NGO community.
With her longstanding business
experience and commitment to public
service, I am pleased that she has agreed to
serve in this new capacity.
The members and stakeholders
represented on the Committee will soon be
announced.

Mr. Speaker:
Last week, I advised that the
Government would implement a program to
assist individuals who have rental
obligations but whose income has been
impacted by the ongoing COVID-19
pandemic.

Today, I wish to announce the details of
this program and how it is to be
administered.
This program is limited to residential
rentals.
It is only for those whose employment or
income has been affected by COVID-19.
Individuals will have to provide
documentation to their landlord to qualify for
this program.

Those who qualify for this program will be able to defer ± or in other words to postpone ± a portion of their rent payment for the next
three months.

Landlords will be required to defer 40
percent of rent due per month for this three
month period, beginning with the month of
April, 2020.

Landlords will not for the three-month
period be able to evict tenants who were in
good standing prior to April.

Landlords will not be able to disconnect
the electricity or water for tenants who were
in good standing prior to April.

This means for example, that if an individual’s rent is $800 per month, they will be required to pay $480 per month over the next three months. The remainder will be deferred or postponed.

At the end of the three-month period,
individuals will have 12 months to pay back
the deferred amount.

This means that individuals will have to
pay the unpaid rent back to the landlord, but
will have a full calendar year to do so.

I note again, that landlords will not be
able to evict any tenant who was in good
standing as of March of this year.

That means that there should be no
evictions between now and the end of June
unless the tenant had been already legally
eligible for eviction before April.

I want to be very clear:
This is not permission for individuals not
to pay their rent.
I advise those who are still able to pay
their full rent to do so.

Mr. Speaker:
It is important to recognize also that
landlords depend on rental payments for
their own income and often, to pay off their
bank mortgages on the rental properties.
This is why those rental payments can be
deferred but they cannot be eliminated.

I am pleased to advise that the
commercial banks have indicated they are
open to deferring the mortgage payments on
rental properties to the extent that landlords
are affected by this program.

To qualify for this program, a renter must
meet the following criteria:

-­‐ They must be renting residential property
inside The Bahamas;
-­‐ They must be paying a monthly rent of
$2,000 per month or less;
-­‐ They must be no more than one month in
arrears with rent;
-­‐ They must be a Bahamian citizen or legal
resident;
-­‐ They must be able to demonstrate that
their employment or income stream has
been affected by the COVID-19
pandemic.

Renters will have to provide the evidence
necessary to show that their income has
been impacted by COVID-19 and they will
have to sign an agreement to repay the
amount deferred.

This will be mandatory for all landlords for
their qualifying renters.
In due course, I will present the revised
order to give effect to this program.

Mr. Speaker:
It is my hope that renters and landlords
can work together through this
unprecedented time to implement this
program with full cooperation by both sides.

Landlords may with the agreement of the
renter decide to provide a bigger deferment
amount. Qualifying renters can decide that they
want a smaller deferment, or no deferment
at all.

I am asking landlords and renters to
approach this with understanding and with
patience. Many renters are on unemployment
assistance and will not have the means to
pay full rent. Many landlords have mortgage
obligations to meet with the banks for these
rental properties.
They and other landlords also depend on
rental income to take care of themselves and
their families.
The government’s policy is intended to recognize that all parties ± including the banks which hold mortgages ± have a stake
in this matter

I am asking for a sense of national
solidarity, personal and collective
responsibility and goodwill by all.

Neither renters nor landlords should seek
to take any advantages at this time.
The details of the program will be
communicated in the coming days.

Mr. Speaker:
Our primary focus right now are:
-­‐ dealing with the health challenges
because of COVID-19;
-­‐ food distribution for the most vulnerable;
-­‐ social and economic assistance; and
-­‐ the maintenance of law and order.

But, we are also planning and preparing for
the way forward and the very next steps so
that we can begin to reopen our economy
and our society more broadly.

Let me emphasize that those who may
have criminal intent in their mind, will be
dealt with swiftly and vigorously.

We will maintain law and order and we are
monitoring gangs and others who are known
to the Police for criminal behavior.

Mr. Speaker:
The House will recall that I formed a broad
based National COVID-19 Coordinating
Committee, comprised of a broad range of
stakeholders.
They have been meeting regularly and
they have been providing advice and
recommendations on a full range of matters
related to the pandemic.
They have been working with medical
professionals and other experts in their
respective areas to develop the draft plans
for what comes next, especially to gradually
re-open the economy in phases.

Mr. Speaker:
The reality is that COVID-19 will be with
us for the foreseeable future even as our number of cases ± and those around the world ± begin to stabilize and even decline.

For the immediate term at least, we will
need protocols and a strategy that will allow
us to re-open our society and our economy
in a way that protects the health and well
being of Bahamians and residents.

The Coordinating Committee has
recommended protocols and a strategy that
we will announce in due course.

We must establish and adhere to a way
of doing things that will allow us to open back
up in a responsible manner.

Such re-opening will be gradual and
deliberate. At each step, proper health and physical
distancing protocols will be mandatory and
will be enforced.

Even as we look and plan to open back up ± we will not and cannot establish a fixed
timetable that says we will do this particular
thing on one date and another on another
date. While the Government establishes plans,
the general timing of the phased reopening
recommended by the Coordination
Committee, will be predicated upon metrics
and guidelines by health officials.

As in other jurisdictions, we must also
have the flexibility to make changes quickly
and to tighten restrictions if the numbers do
not move in the right direction.

Mr. Speaker: Our airport and seaport partners ± as well as the hospitality industry ± are themselves
working with their counterparts around the
world to develop international and regional
standards for the transportation and lodging
of individuals in the COVID-19 landscape.
We will review these standards and
accept those that we feel are appropriate for
The Bahamas.

We will also as necessary implement our
own specific standards where we feel
various regional or international standards
do not match our reality.

We have started to reopen small parts of
the economy to allow Bahamians and
residents to access hardware and auto
parts, among other items.

Any further reopening will be guided by
the advice of our health professionals.
Mr. Speaker:
Yesterday, the Cabinet Office
announced the Economic Recovery
Committee.

The National Coordinating Committee is
a committee representing various national
stakeholders to advise the government
generally.

The Economic Recovery Committee is a
group convened to draft a medium- and
long-term strategic vision for recovery along
with proposed implementation plans.

The Co-Chairs of the Committee are
Acting Financial Secretary Mr. Marlon
Johnson and businessman Mr. Ken Kerr,
CEO, Providence Advisors.
The Economic Recovery group is made
up of individuals with noted expertise and
experience from the private and public
sector.
This group will consult widely, at home
and abroad, with representation from myriad
industries.
This public-private Committee will make
recommendations to the Cabinet on: the
long-term economic recovery of The
Bahamas economy, including job-creation
and stimulating small business recovery and
development in response to COVID-19.

The Committee will focus on restoring the
macroeconomy; restarting a competitive
business environment; economic
diversification; tourism and transport;
financial services and labour.
Public-Private partnerships will be
essential in restoring and rebuilding our
economy.
I have charged the Economic Committee
with thinking boldly and creatively in its
deliberations.

We are in a new era, so we must think in
new ways and think outside of the narrow
confines of what is necessary or possible.

Mr. Speaker:
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused
the worst economic crisis for our country in
living memory.
Due to international borders being
closed, our tourism sector has shut down.
Tourism is the heart of our economy.

The virus and its effects make it difficult
to predict when tourists will return.
We have the most dynamic tourism
economy in the region.
We will do all we can to be ready to
receive and host visitors when they can
travel again.
However, in the interim while travel has
stopped we must explore what else we can
do to make it through in these difficult times.

The purpose of this economic advisory
group is to give practical, innovative and
doable policy recommendations for the way
forward.
We need the minds and hearts of this
committee to contribute ideas that Cabinet
and the Parliament can consider to boost our
economic circumstance.
This is not the time to be timid.
What are needed are ideas that can
generate economic activity and trade, and a
pathway to those ideas that is doable.

This Committee must think quickly, as we
are in the crisis now.
Ideas from all existing sectors should be
reviewed.
Ideas in sectors we are not yet in must
also be pursued.
We must use our individual and collective
Bahamian imagination for greater self
reliance.
We will continue to promote and to
encourage the manufacturing of local
products.

The new face mask industry is doing well,
and by some estimates may be valued
between six to nine million dollars a year.

Mr. Speaker:
I thank Bahamians and residents for their
suggestions and ideas.
As of Sunday, April, 26, we have
received more than 1,700 suggestions that
have been submitted ideas through the
opm.gov.bs Suggestions platform.

We are in the process of sorting these
suggestions, which have poured in from New
Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family
Islands.
The suggestions cover topics ranging
from ideas on how to diversify our economy,
how to address critical issues like food
security, how best to re-open our economy,
how to improve government services, and
many, many more.

We may not be able to reply to every
suggestion, but we will carefully read every
submission and ensure that it reaches the
right agency for consideration.

I encourage Bahamians and residents to
continue to send in suggestions.
We welcome the ideas.
I thank the Bahamian people and
residents for the solidarity they are
demonstrating at this time.

Mr. Speaker:
Most Bahamians are playing their part in
the fight against this virus.
Many are staying at home and following
the guidelines and Emergency Orders.
Many students are learning at home
while their parents are working from home.
Some Bahamians are discovering new
talents and hobbies.
Bahamians and residents are wearing
their masks and practicing physical
distancing.
There are countless acts of love and
kindness and generosity.
We must all continue to play our part to
stem this outbreak and to return, over time,
to a greater sense of normalcy.
Please continue to stay at home.
Go out only when absolutely necessary.
Go out by yourself, not as a group.

As another world leader said: ³Remember: it is not just about adhering to
the letter of the law.
The spirit of the guidelines is to reduce
movement to a minimum, and to avoid being
out and about in the community. This is the
way to protect yourself, your family and everyone else.´

Mr. Speaker:
In all things and at all times let us pray
unceasingly to the God who gives us life and
who is able to give new life and life
abundantly.

I wish to close with the words of a well
known hymn, which may be our shared
prayer and hope.

To the God of New Beginnings we pray: ³Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; ³The darkness deepens; Lord, with me
abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me. Swift to its close, ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see²
O Thou who changest not, abide with me. I need Thy presence every passing hour; What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r? Who like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide
with me. ³I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy
victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me. ³Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing
eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to
the skies; Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
May God bless and guide our Bahamas.

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