Focus | At war with COVID-19
The Bahamas has no military but be sure, we are at war. COVID-19 is the enemy. It is a contagion that spreads from person to person and in so doing, can wreak havoc on whole communities and countries. Most people will only experience mild flu-like symptoms from COVID-19, but a sizable number of people are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms and even death from this virus. The elderly are the most vulnerable group, but there are many younger people who are also at risk, as they have underlying illnesses that create complications.
What are the underlying illnesses that put many people at risk, including young people? High blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease, respiratory-related illnesses and cardiovascular disease. The fact that these are so prevalent in The Bahamas means that we have an at-risk population. Many in this at risk-population include younger Bahamians. Yes, younger Bahamians are at risk too. As noted by Nsikan Akpan, writing for National Geographic, “The idea that the virus only poses a threat to older people comes from focusing too heavily on COVID-19’s death rate, which the World Health Organization updated last Wednesday to 3.4 percent. This rate is an average across ages, and the chances of dying do rise among older people. But evidence also shows that COVID-19 is more fatal across all age groups than seasonal influenza, with death rates six to ten times higher for those under 50. Moreover, death isn’t the only danger and severe cases of COVID-19 are more common among young adults than you might think.”
As Akpan further points out, a New England Journal of Medicine study examined the age breakdown for 1,099 coronavirus patients and found that, “The majority of non-severe cases — 60 percent — are teens and adults between 15 to 49 years old, which might suggest this group is spared the worst of the virus. In truth, severe cases were slightly more abundant among this younger demographic. Of the 163 severe cases reported in the study, 41 percent were young adults, 31 percent were aged 50 to 64 and 27 percent were above 65. The only age group spared by severe COVID-19 appeared to be kids under 14.”
COVID-19 is serious and deadly. The elderly are more at risk, but to be sure, we are all at risk. The most important thing to do right now is to mitigate, meaning, prevent the spread of this virus. Whatever our religion, politics, age, class or station in life, we must all be about the business of stopping the spread of this virus right now.
COVID-19 could result in as much as 1,800 deaths if 60 percent of our population is affected. It can demobilize for weeks, as much as 240,000 people, many of whom are workers. It can overwhelm our health care system, causing serious issues for non-COVID-19 patients. It can shut down this economy to the tune of a 60 percent hit on our national income in direct and indirect ways, costing this economy up to $1.5 billion. Its impact can linger with us for as much as two to three years, as people would be slow to think about socializing as they did before.
In a war, strategy is key. Strategy is a plan to win. Winning, for us, means stopping the spread of this disease and returning to a way of life that is smooth and sustainable. So, the government, in partnership with society, must be in mitigation mode. Each of us must think that we can be affected, or rather, infected and live to avoid the same until our testing protocols suggest that things are reversing. Social distancing, good hygiene practices, self-isolation if necessary and quarantine are our part, among other things. Even after that, we must maintain protocols to maintain that reversal until we have vaccines that prevent significant spread. Our strategy must include softening the economic blow from the reduced economic activity brought on by the pandemic. In this regard, it will be interesting to hear from the minister of finance today.
In the best of times, life is complicated. In times like these, it is a downright mystery. Whatever it is, we must deal with it and can only do so with sober mindedness and grit. #Bahamasstrong!
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.