Bewildering leadership

The Bahamas has never gotten testing and contact tracing for the COVID-19 virus right. Both protocols experienced precipitous declines during the 10-week period when the prime minister held the post of minister of health.

Having extolled the Ministry of Health’s National Reference Laboratory (NRL) as the only facility in The Bahamas accredited by the College of American Pathologists, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), in practice the laboratory has become almost irrelevant to efforts to identify and test COVID-19-positive individuals in the country.

Today, 80 to 85 percent of all COVID-19 testing is being done by Doctors Hospital at a cost of $225.

Most people who should be tested cannot afford the cost.

Meanwhile, individuals testing at the NRL are having to wait weeks to receive their results. There is no telling how many positive tested individuals are still out and about in the community – at the food store, pharmacies and at their places of employment, ignorant of their COVID-19 status.

Testing and contact tracing for the virus remain seriously deficient. And our national positivity rate for the virus is at four times the rate recommended by the WHO before reopening of economies.

With a population of 394,100, we have the highest mortality rate for COVID-19 in the English-speaking Caribbean region – 74 COVID-19 deaths, nine COVID-19-related deaths and an additional 16 deaths under investigation.

Jamaica, with a population of three million, has a COVID-19 death toll of 67. Trinidad and Tobago, with some 1.39 million people, has a COVID-19 death count of 61. Guyana, whose population stands at 787,000, has lost 64 lives to the pandemic and Barbados, with a population of 286,000, has lost seven.

Many people here have abandoned all pretext of following any protocols at all.

While coconut-water-selling young men continue to be hauled before the courts for violations of curfew and quarantine emergency orders, many individuals move about town without face coverings, and ignore any pretence at social distancing in places of business, at the beach or when socializing at residences, sometimes rented specifically for the purpose.

Violation of restrictions on size of gatherings for funerals was flaunted by members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) last week in the presence of a Cabinet minister. The commissioner of police’s claim to be unaware of what was transpiring was contemptible.

And social media postings of FNM election canvasing display not even a pretence at social distancing. Meanwhile, Bahamians are told by the competent authority not to visit the homes of family members and friends.

The prime minister advised the House of Assembly last week that he proposes to extend the COVID-19 emergency order providing for an overnight curfew to the end of October. Then he asked Bahamians to continue to observe the physical distancing and face mask wearing protocols if only for another three weeks.

And then, he himself ignored the established protocol to self-quarantine for 14 days following a known exposure to a COVID-19-positive individual.

After it was revealed that a staff member at the House of Assembly had tested positive for COVID-19, he refused to cancel the next scheduled meeting of the chamber and encouraged his colleagues to attend.

The number of active COVID-19 cases today stands, unmanageably, at 1,527. There are 77 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The hospital morgue, with 150 bodies, is significantly over capacity.

Last week, the USA gifted Jamaica a field hospital capable of accommodating 70 patients. Might we not pursue obtaining one, whether by gift or purchase, to help relieve our overburdened and overwhelmed healthcare system?

There is a deafening silence from the prime minister and his minister of health.

This crisis seems to be devoid of leadership. We find it bewildering.

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