THE RUBBISH OF EXTENDING THE COVID ORDER

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Leader of the Opposition Philip Dais announced in the House of Assembly that the opposition would no longer be supporting the extension of the Proclamation of The Public Emergency.  Here is his full statement to the House of Assembly delivered on Thursday 28 May 2020:

EMERGENCY POWER RESOLUTION EXTENSION 
Thursday May 27, 2020
Remarks by 
Hon. Philip Brave Davis MP QC
Leader of the Opposition 

Mr. Speaker,

The Bahamian people have already sacrificed so much in the fight against COVID-19. For months they have cooperated with the government’s demands and braved the many hardships that came about as a result of the pandemic, including the devastating effects of the lockdowns and curfews on their mental and financial health. The resilience of our people is being tested daily. To say that this period has been difficult for the average Bahamian would be an understatement. Our people are hurting.

This is why, since the start of this pandemic, the PLP has consistently called for a people-first approach to not only controlling the spread of COVID-19 but also managing the economic fallout and hardships visited on the Bahamian people. 

I fear that there is a growing disconnect between the government and the everyday Bahamian on the appropriate response to the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis. While it may be easy for those supporting members of this government to survive another month of lockdowns, curfews, and economic stagnation, it is becoming increasingly harder for most Bahamians to stay afloat as each day goes by without any alleviation. To many Bahamians, the news that the Emergency Orders would be extended until the end of June caused great distress. It is a burden that many fear they cannot bear for another month. 

I ask those of you in this government who may be sceptical of this fact to go and talk to the people and you will find that a majority are in agreement with me. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, the people are expecting the government’s policies to evolve with it.

Mr. Speaker,

 I cannot support an extension of the emergency orders in their current form. 

To be clear, I am in full support of taking measures to save lives and to control the spread of the virus; however, I also support doing what we can to mitigate the economic impact, getting as close to normal as we safely can. This includes the aggressive pursuit of resources to initiate widespread testing, creating a robust system for contact tracing, and expanding our capacity to isolate new cases, as well as implementing a rational plan for re-opening the economy.  This administration has had over two months to implement these life-saving measures to win the fight against the coronavirus, and yet its efforts have proven woefully inadequate. Each day that this government fails to equip our public health system and workers with the resources they need, more lives are being put at risk. Each day that this administration fails to come up with solutions to our economic woes, more Bahamian people are being pushed into poverty. This out-of-touch government seems to be content with its heavy-handed use of extreme lockdowns and curfews that are strangling the local economy. Where our country needs innovative and adaptive policy, we are getting a rigid, short-sighted, and destructive approach masquerading as a solution but causing more problems than it solves.

Around the world, many countries are learning to strike the proper balance. In Denmark, for example, infection rates have fallen since schools and businesses have resumed operation while Germany’s infection rate has remained consistently low despite re-opening. The US states of Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, and several others have also enjoyed lower infection rates since re-opening. In fact, a recent study by J.P. Morgan indicates that the vast majority of countries have seen decreased COVID-19 rates after lockdowns were lifted.

There is enough evidence out there to suggest that a careful approach to easing lockdowns while preserving social distancing policies and equipping the public health system with everything it needs to treat, test, trace, and isolate, can be executed in a way that does not put more lives at risk. This is an inevitable step towards normalcy that must be taken. The government can no longer justify its current approach. To continue to wilfully devastate our economy by choosing to stick with a lockdown and curfew model that most countries have begun moving away from is madness.

It is time to shift the model from coercion to cooperation. Our people and local businesses have proven they are capable of doing what it takes to win this fight. However, an essential step in this process is for the government to give people the information they need to begin planning for the immediate future. How are we tracking and modelling to ensure that our predictions are accurate? When will we begin aggressive testing to get a true picture of the rate of infection in the population? 

Bahamians deserve to know that government policies are based on sound data. Yet, Ministry of Health officials have provided no rationale for continuing weekend lockdowns, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has stated that it was not a Ministry determination that islands without COVID-19 cases cannot re-open.  Many inherent conflicts in the easing of the restrictions, such as the decision to open some businesses and not others, the opening of some virus-free family islands but not others, and the unjust and unfair penalties on vulnerable populations, point to the fact that the FNM has been driven more by politics and the innate elitism within their ranks than by science.

This government has sought to hide its incompetence behind draconian measures and a lack of transparency, suspending civil liberties, and misusing its powers during the state of emergency. I want this FNM government to know, while your leader may hide from the media’s questions, you cannot hide from the people. The people will ultimately hold you accountable for the heartless decisions being made during this time of great pain. The least you can do is not make their suffering worse. 

The Bahamian people are restless and have sacrificed more than enough in compliance with the government’s policies. While this is a difficult and unprecedented situation for the entire world, many countries have stepped up and are making great progress in fighting the virus while protecting their people and economies. It is time for this government to learn from the various models for success out there and adapt before we are left behind. 

Bahamians are ready to do what it takes to make this all work. And when given the opportunity, I know that my people are more than capable of rising to the occasion and powering this economy. But they need this government to adapt to the changing reality and stop holding them back. It is time for this administration to stop playing catch-up and make the decisions that will pave the way for our country to prosper again.

I know that it is not the natural instinct of this administration to put people-first, but I must advise you to listen to the counsel of those who have done it before you. The PLP has a long history of providing effective and compassionate leadership.  As leader of the PLP, it is my duty to uphold that legacy. I will continue to push and fight for the Bahamian people in the hopes that this government will see the light and begin to make decisions for the benefit of all Bahamians.