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Monday, July 20th, 2020, saw a series of announcements made by multiple government agencies in the Bahamas concerning different incidents related to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country – as 21 new cases were added to the already swollen case count, bringing the total number of cases to 174 – an increase of 70 cases, since the country re-opened its international borders on July 1st, 2020.

The Ministry of Finance in an official statement revealed that Bahamas Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, K. Peter Turnquest received a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result on Friday, July 17, 2020.  He was said to have taken the test after learning that he had been exposed to a positive case earlier that day. The Ministry further informed that on advice, Minister Turnquest voluntarily entered self-quarantine, and continues to perform his functions as Minister of Finance, while working remotely from his home.

Also on Monday, the Public Hospitals Authority, in a press release, reported that an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) operating out of New Providence tested positive for COVID-19 after developing symptoms. They informed that there was no history of travel and the exposure pointed towards community-based spread.  The Surveillance Unit of the Ministry of Health, they said, is carrying out contact tracing in regard to this case, and that to date, ten (10) people connected to the EMT have been placed in quarantine.  The PHA ambulances as well as the impacted EMS locations, they added, have been professionally cleaned and sanitized.  EMS services were said to be continuing as usual through calling 911/919, however, the public was reminded to utilize the service of EMS for emergencies only, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

One day earlier, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, during a 5pm national address on Sunday afternoon, July 19th, 2020, announced a return to a number of the restrictions, first imposed in March, after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, including a partial closure of borders, ceasing international commercial flights and vessels into the country, with the exception of arrivals from the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada.  A negative RT-PCR test, no older than 10 days is still being required by all incoming visitors to the country.

Enforcement of the new measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 in the country was said to be a priority by Prime Minister Minnis, who in his Sunday address, outlined what he termed as the government’s comprehensive national strategy in the battle against COVID-19, including new fines and the establishment of a COVID-19 Enforcement Unit.

“We will be doing everything possible to ensure that the health protocols and Emergency Orders are enforced, to limit the spread of the virus and to avoid further restrictive control measures,”  Prime Minister Minnis said in his address to the nation.

Among the enforcement measures were fines for falsifying results of a COVID-19 test, knowingly exposing or infecting another person to the coronavirus and breaking mandatory or self-quarantine.

It will now be an offence for someone to submit a falsified result of a COVID 19 diagnostic test or to undergo the test prior to their departure from The Bahamas and present the results of the test on return to The Bahamas as though the test had been carried out in another jurisdiction.  People found guilty would be liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to two years imprisonment or both.

Where a person knows or reasonably believes that they are infected with the COVID 19 virus and causes another to be exposed or infected that person commits an offence and upon summary conviction will be liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000 in respect of each person who has been exposed or infected.

It will also be an offence for an airline or sea vessel to permit a passenger to board not wearing a face mask and without an approved travel health card from the Ministry of Health.

On summary conviction, the operator will be subject to a fine of $500 in respect of each passenger in violation.

Anyone who leaves mandatory or self-quarantine before being released by the Ministry of Health will also be liable to a fine of $250.

The Prime Minister said the Royal Bahamas Police Force will continue to be responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of the COVID-19 Emergency Orders through the establishment of a new Enforcement Unit.

The Unit will coordinate activities to educate and ensure that all Bahamians, residents and visitors are adhering to the enforcement protocols of the Emergency Powers Orders to keep communities safe.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force, said Prime Minister Minnis, is making final preparations for the COVID 19 Command Centre at the Cable Beach Police Station, from which all HubbCat monitors, dispatchers and COVID-19 Ambassadors will be controlled.  Across the islands of The Bahamas, he said, the Unit will have 177 COVID-19 Ambassadors; 23 HubbCat Monitors; and 21 vehicles dedicated to this specific enforcement purpose.

The Enforcement Unit will also monitor individuals in quarantine; ensure that the general public is adhering to the COVID-19 Orders; ensure that business establishments are adhering to the COVID-19 Orders; and monitor beaches and parks.

“Our current situation demands decisive action, if we are to avoid being overrun and defeated by this virus,” said the Prime Minister.

“We cannot allow our hospitals to be overrun. Many priorities must be balanced, be they health, social and economic. Chief amongst these though is health. We cannot risk the death of Bahamians and our residents.”