In an unprecedented attempt to contain COVID-19 in The Bahamas, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis last night ordered a 24-hour national curfew and the closure of airports, docks, ports, and beaches throughout the country with certain exceptions.
The order goes into effect at 9 a.m. today and expires at 9 a.m. on March 31.
“A curfew is imposed every day for 24 hours except as provided in the orders or may be approved by the commissioner of police,” Minnis said in a national address.
“In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, every person shall remain confined to their place of residence inclusive of their yard space to avoid contact outside of their family…”
Exceptions to the order, according to the prime minister, include essential workers reporting to work, and essential travel to banks, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, gas stations, and grocery stores.
Minnis said Bahamians — alone or with family members living under the same roof — will be permitted to an hour and a half of daily outdoor exercise between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Individuals will be required to keep a distance of at least six feet between themselves and others.
Essential workers will be exempted from the curfew under order five of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No. 2) Order, 2020.
In the order, “essential officers” are listed as members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Fire Services, the Department of Correctional Services, the National Insurance Board, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Environmental Health Services, the Department of Immigration, the Customs Department, waste disposal and sanitation companies, and any hospital, healthcare or medical facility.
Also listed are “essential officers of any water, electricity or other sector encompassing the provision of electronic communications including print and electronic media”.
“All of these essential workers should at all times carry personal identification,” Minnis said.
The announcement last night came as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened with more than 374,000 cases and 16,400 deaths globally.
There have been four confirmed cases of the virus in The Bahamas; all cases were reported on New Providence.
The prime minister also ordered the closure of all beaches in The Bahamas.
“To stop COVID-19 from spreading, each of us is a soldier or warrior in this battle,” Minnis said.
“Our personal and collective behavior is the best way to fight this threat. Do not invite people over to your homes to socialize. Do not hang out with friends. Do not have house parties.
“If you do not heed the warnings, you could catch this virus. It could kill you. You could spread it to your friends and families and it could kill them too.
“By listening to our advice you will save your life and that of your friends and family.”
The prime minister ordered that all establishments, institutions, businesses, offices, stores and organizations “remain closed” to the general public except for the following: wholesale or retail grocery stores and farmers’ markets; doctors’ offices, hospitals or medical facilities; pharmacies; gas stations; medical supply establishments; hotels excluding casinos, spas, gyms, discotheques and dine-in restaurants; banks; commercial ports and related businesses; commercial courier flights; airports; drive through or take away food vendors; and pet food stores.
The order also exempts water production and depot facilities, The Bahamas Red Cross, Freeport Container Port, Freeport Harbour Company, the Bridge Authority, Cloud Carib Limited, security firms, credit unions, commercial bakeries, and construction companies carrying out hurricane relief reconstruction and restoration efforts on Abaco, Grand Bahama and their respective cays.
It mandates that “all works of construction of any sort” — with the exception of “urgent” home plumbing, electrical or roof repairs — cease operation as of 7 p.m. today.
It also notes that all religious and educational places of instruction or worship remain closed.
This does not “prohibit” any activity taking place by electronic or virtual means, or the attendance of church for private individual prayer while “maintaining physical distancing,” the document notes.
The order states that no one can host or attend a private party that includes any person from outside of the immediate household of the house occupant; a recreational or competitive sporting event; any other ceremony of public worship in a facility or public place which involves the participation of any member of the general public or a congregation; a wedding which hosts 10 or more people other than the bride, bridegroom, official witnesses and the marriage officer; a banquet, ball or reception; any social event; a funeral, except 10 members of the immediate family and at least one officiant and essential mortuary staff; or a meeting of a fraternal society, private or social club or civic association or organization.
“The Fish Fry situated at Arawak Cay and other occasional markets throughout The Bahamas shall close,” Minnis said.
“The Potter’s Cay Dock and every other dock throughout The Bahamas shall be closed to any commercial activity and sales of anything to the general public, including fish, conch or any such catch.”
Minnis ordered that “every human establishment must ensure that all customers and staff maintain physical distancing of no less than six feet in or outside their business”.
He mandated businesses determine the number of individuals who are permitted in an establishment “at any one time by permitting one person for every 30 square feet of store space”.
“Within 24 hours of the commencement of this order, place distance markers six feet apart, indicating where each customer must stand on a line at a checkout point,” the prime minister said.
“Within 24 hours of the commencement of this order, place distance markers six feet apart on the outside of the establishment, indicating where customers must stand while waiting to enter the establishment.”
He added, “Owners will also be strongly encouraged to enforce physical distancing inside and outside their establishments.”
Minnis encouraged that supermarkets designate a daily shopping period for senior citizens between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
“For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread of COVID-19, with immediate effect, except without prior written permission of the competent authority, all airports including private airports and fixed-base operations shall be closed to incoming international flights carrying any visitor,” Minnis said.
“All seaports shall be closed to regional and international seafaring and private boating; and no visitor shall be permitted to enter and disembark for any reason including transmitting through The Bahamas.”
The prime minister said the restrictions did not apply to outgoing flights or ships, cargo flights or cargo ships, commercial courier flights, emergency medical flights, or emergency flights approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.
He also ordered that no one use mail boat, sailing inter island, except for transport of freight; or inter island private commercial sea transport that is nonessential.
Any person, company or organization that contravenes the order is liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 18 months or to both.