Abaco residents seek more relaxation of restrictions – Bahamas Tribune

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By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net 

DAYS after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis eased some COVID-19 restrictions for Abaco, North and Central Abaco administrator Terrece Bootle-Laing said while most residents welcome the move, some want additional measures to be relaxed.

She was referring to school operations and construction activities during the weekends.

Noting the island is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Dorian, Mrs Bootle-Laing said many locals were left angered and frustrated after Dr Minnis last week announced a full weekend lockdown for the island, ordering the shutdown of nearly all businesses there.

The emergency orders also stated that residents travelling from mainland Abaco to its surrounding cays would have to submit to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

However, many of the restrictions have since been eased, with amendments made to certain business operations and inter-travel on the island.

For instance, gas stations and takeaway restaurants are allowed to remain open between 6am and 6pm during the weekend lockdowns. The cays have also been exempted from Abaco’s weekend lockdown and curfew hours, while residents commuting to the cays are no longer required to quarantine.

Yesterday, Mrs Bootle-Laing said the easing of certain restrictions was welcomed by many residents in the community.

However, she noted that residents are calling for more measures to be relaxed, especially as it relates to school operations there, where only virtual learning can be practised.

Yesterday, Mrs Bootle-Laing acknowledged the challenges associated with that particular learning method for residents on the island, who are sometimes plagued with power outages.

“I know the government schools are entirely on a virtual platform and in North Abaco, as we speak right now, the electricity is off,” she told The Tribune. “So, whatever learning which would’ve been undertaken virtually is disrupted right now. So that is one of the challenges when you look at a virtual platform.

“The electricity in Abaco doesn’t frequently go off but there are times and occasions where it is disrupted like today because they are undergoing upgrades on power lines and phones and so that is expected in an environment like this.”

Before the Prime Minister’s announcement, several private institutions had already resumed school operations, with face-to-face instruction for limited numbers of students in classrooms.

Mrs Bootle-Laing said many of those schools had been adhering to the COVID protocols and were shocked when they heard the news.

She added representatives have since appealed to the competent authority to review the current measures in place pertaining to school operations.

“There is an outcry and I believe the Prime Minister, as advised by the medical practitioners, has to review it with consideration of health and safety first,” she told this newspaper.

“Even representatives from the Chamber of Commerce made a presentation in his communication to allow schools to continue their face-to-face learning because a number of schools have just been opened and were adhering strictly to the protocols and parents have also been adhering to the protocols schools would’ve made for face-to-face learning.

“Some of the schools are a combination of virtual and face-to-face and we await to see whether that particular provision will be reviewed.”

Mrs Bootle-Laing said some residents are also requesting that construction be permitted for certain hours during the weekend lockdown to help facilitate home restoration efforts.

“There are some contractors who are only available for home construction on the weekends because they are on major projects on the cays on the weekends they’re only able to commit their time to home construction and even their personal homes, but, like I said, we have to be guided with what health practitioners are saying.”

Central Abaco chief’s councillor, George Cornish added: “The thing about it is tourism is our main industry in Abaco and in the Bahamas. Most of the resorts here have gotten damaged and you have some resorts that have already set dates for opening or a soft opening.

“How is that going to help them get the tourism industry back up and running if we can’t work on weekends…so for us not being able to work on the weekends is going to put us back and stagnate the process.”

As of Tuesday, COVID-19 cases on Abaco stood at 160 and in the last week very few new cases have been reported. It is unclear how many cases remain active.

Mrs Bootle-Laing said while most residents have been adhering to the new COVID-19 guidelines, there are some people who still choose to disobey the rules.

She said: “We know the lockdown weekend, there seems to be for the most part adherence on the mainland. We saw on social media platforms gatherings on one of the beaches on the cays and that was our fear because that was a safe community (with no COVID cases) where that social media picture emanated from and we hope that after that gathering, that still is the case.”

As it relates to the business community, the island administrator continued: “One or two of the barrooms, I’ve seen a breach in protocols, but the business community for the most part are complying and you see the ‘no entry’, ‘no mask’ signs all around the business community and persons for their own safety are enforcing that rule.”