Op-EdUncategorized

Consider This | COVID-19: From pillar to post, pt. 1

“Half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on which to base a decision.” Herbert Hawkes

The expression “from pillar to post” dates back hundreds of years and was originally “from post to pillar”.

In the Middle Ages, when a person was publicly punished, the individual was first tied to a post and whipped, then moved to the pillory where that individual was showcased for the crowd’s amusement. Hence the original phrase “from post to pillar”.

It has evolved into another meaning. To move from pillar to post, in today’s nomenclature, describes a person moving aimlessly from one place or thing to another with little or no purpose or direction, often due to disappointments, rejections or failure.

Since the beginning of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, governments the world over have responded in different ways.

Some have successfully limited the spread of the virus, and resulting deaths, among their populations without closing their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan and some of the Scandinavian countries rank among the successful countries.

Other countries have failed miserably, ostensibly by denying the existence and potentially disastrous impact of the pandemic, resulting in exponentially excessive infections and unnecessary deaths. The United States of America and Brazil are examples of countries whose failed leadership has moved the population from pillar to post during this pandemic.

Therefore, this week we would like to consider this — has The Bahamas government joined those nations that have seemingly moved from pillar to post during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The first two waves

Since COVID-19 arrived in The Bahamas earlier this year, we have witnessed two distinctly different spikes in infections.

Under the first Emergency Orders in mid-March, up to June 30, 2020, The Bahamas recorded 104 confirmed cases and 11 deaths. On June 30, the Ministry of Health confirmed the following cases: New Providence – 82, Grand Bahama – eight, Bimini – 13 and Cat Cay – one.

The second spike coincided with the full opening of the nation’s borders on July 1, 2020.

Beginning on that date, and as of this writing, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections have rapidly increased from 104 on June 30, 2020, to 326 as of July 25, 2020.

Only 25 days after opening our borders, the Ministry of Health confirmed the following cases: New Providence – 130, Grand Bahama – 159, Bimini – 21, Cat Cay – four, Cat Island – two, Berry Islands – six, Moore’s Island – three and Great Guana Cay — one.

It is also noteworthy and significant that on July 23, 2020, Grand Bahama surpassed New Providence with the number of confirmed cases.

Aimless wandering

In the early days of the pandemic, the government, especially the Ministry of Health, created a positive environment, foreshadowing that the professionals in the ministry were poised to ably guide us through this crisis.

The timely, interactive and informative exchanges among then Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands, public health officers and the media established an atmosphere that inspired confidence.

However, during this pandemic, as time passed, the government seemed to lose its way, ostensibly moving from pillar to post regarding several important and impactful matters.

The first chink in its armor arose when certain politicians, during the national lockdown of our borders, unilaterally decided to allow non-Bahamian residents to enter the country on a private aircraft, without the approval of the competent authority, and permitted them to self-quarantine at their private residence in Port New Providence.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Bahamians who wanted to return to The Bahamas were prohibited by the government from so doing. This preferential treatment of foreign nationals infuriated residents and their families who had already endured weeks of national lockdown.

This preferential treatment of the foreign nationals also resulted in the resignation of the minister of health because he had acted without proper authority to allow those individuals to enter The Bahamas.

Then Bahamians were further confused regarding the repatriation of Bahamians after months of forced dislocation by their government. The return of hundreds of Bahamians was also marked by the confusion that surrounded an individual who allegedly returned to Freeport without the requisite COVID-19 test results, a pre-condition for repatriation.

The government’s meandrous wandering from pillar to post was exacerbated by the newly appointed minister of health, the prime minister.

He did not provide the level of engagement of his predecessor, failing to hold regular press conferences, and, when he did, often refusing to adequately address questions from the press. The goodwill that his predecessor had cultivated rapidly deteriorated during the prime minister’s sojourn in that temporary assignment.

The prime minister must take responsibility for the second spike of confirmed COVID-19 cases because they occurred during his tenure as minister of health.

It was on his watch that we prematurely opened our borders to foreign nationals. It was also on his watch that Bahamians were allowed to travel internationally despite the proliferation of positive cases, particularly for our northern neighbors, especially Florida, which constitutes the largest market for our tourism sector and the preferred destination for Bahamians.

Both decisions have largely contributed to the exponential increase in domestic COVID-19 cases.

It was also on his watch as minister that the government dropped the ball in renewing the state of emergency proclamation in a timely manner at the end of June, resulting in the attorney general acknowledging and apologizing for this oversight.

The prime minister’s announcements again provided another example of the aimless wandering of the government from pillar to post during his July 19 national address.

During that event, the prime minister stated that commercial air and sea travel to The Bahamas will be restricted for all countries, except for Canada, the United Kingdom and European Union countries.

This decision, which seemed reasonable, was understandably taken because of the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States.

In addition, the prime minister announced that returning Bahamian citizens and residents must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test that was obtained within 10 days of its administration, along with a valid health visa.

Individuals without the negative COVID-19 PCR test would be quarantined for 14 days at a government facility, and, at the end of the quarantine period, they would have to obtain an RT-PCR COVID-19 test.

However, when the new emergency orders were tabled in Parliament on Wednesday past, the provisions were materially different from those that were foreshadowed only three days earlier in the prime minister’s address.

One of the many unanswered questions is why. No explanation was given when the new orders were tabled.

The new orders amended the previously announced travel ban, now making it possible for commercial air travelers, including from the United States, to enter The Bahamas, along with the requisite testing, provided they mandatorily quarantine for 14 days.

The new orders establish no prescriptions or regulations for passengers on pleasure crafts or private or chartered aircraft, as previously foreshadowed in the prime minister’s national address.

Many unanswered questions

There are several unanswered questioned that must be addressed.

First: although during the Friday evening press conference, the prime minister briefly touched on what precipitated at least one of the differences between his national address and the tabling of the new orders, there has been no official statement on the matter regarding the reversal of the government’s decision regarding travel.

Although the attorney general issued an innocuous statement regarding the government’s walk-back of its travel ruling for returning residents and citizens and visitors, suggesting that the changes were made pursuant to “treaty obligations, and also the provisions of the Chicago Convention, which regulates international air transport”, one would think that he would have cautioned the prime minister about this treaty obligation prior to his national address on Sunday, July 19.

Second: why were the changes not fully explained in Parliament?

Third: when will the nation receive the answers that the new, recently appointed minister of health said he would provide in Parliament on the tabling of the new orders last Wednesday?

Fourth: can the government confirm that it will have sufficient resources to test returning citizens, residents and visitors as prescribed by the new orders?

Fifth: when will the Bahamian people obtain a comprehensive plan for extricating the country from the COVID-19 crisis? What milestones must be achieved to signal that we can safely open our borders, end the government-imposed lockdowns and allow students to return to school?

Sixth: how long will the government continue to lock down the islands of The Bahamas that do not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases?

Conclusion

Bahamians have endured much to ensure that we mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have submitted to and complied with the regulations and orders promulgated by Parliament and the competent authority.

They have acquiesced to the shutdown of our parks and beaches. They have accepted the restrictions that have been imposed on their free movement.

People want informed leadership, not uncertain, ill-advised, bewildering mismanagement of the people’s business, which seems to meander from pillar to post.

When the government makes mistakes, as it has during this crisis, the people suffer. The government should not take advantage of the people’s patience. That patience is not without its limits.

The government should also fully appreciate that the people would reluctantly permit their civil liberties to be abridged if they believe that such abridgement is justified.

It should never assume that the people will not revolt when they believe that the government has overstepped its authority.

To inspire the people’s confidence in their government, it must refrain from moving from pillar to post regarding the business of the people.

The government must present a cogent plan, as well as vastly improved and candid communications to the people who are becoming tired of being dragged from pillar to post with no end or solution in sight.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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