Editorials

COVID’s continuing shadow into 2022

The beginning of a new year is typically filled with great expectations, resolutions and plans for getting ahead and making life better.

COVID-weary Bahamians were anxious to leave behind nearly two years of COVID and months of limits to their civil liberties as the new year approached. The removal of many emergency restrictions in the weeks following the September general election was welcomed. Happily, the virus appeared to subside.

Then, just as we began to breathe sighs of relief, watching the number of new COVID infections stabilize, then decline, hospitalizations plummet and tourists returning and filling our hotels, beaches, and shops, a new, more infectious variant, Omicron, arrived at our shores, joining the lingering Delta variant.

Vaccination rates remain stubbornly low among Bahamians. Less than 50 percent of all those eligible have been fully vaccinated and fewer still have sought the booster shot.

Large social gatherings, where attendees observe face mask-wearing and social distancing mandates, only in the breach, are growing in number.

This, plus a lacklustre vaccination campaign, and a healthcare system already critically short of nurses and doctors, formed the background against which the prime minister addressed the nation on Sunday night.

He encouraged Bahamians to become vaccinated and boosted, announced the expansion of his government’s free testing initiative, and the beginning of the distribution of free medical grade masks at government clinics and at vaccination centers. And he advised that the government had been successful in identifying 12 additional doctors and 50 nurses who were being engaged to alleviate staff shortage in the government health sector.

He stressed that he was especially keen not to interfere with the rebound in the tourism sector as he was very focused on the numbers of families pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic.

Hence, he was not minded to impose additional restrictions or enhance the enforcement of existing ones. And this despite the undisputed fact that the most effective tools in controlling or limiting the spread of COVID are a reduction in the movement of people, the wearing of face masks and social distancing.

In his national address, the prime minister did not address the continued calamity in the government school system where students have not attended in-person classes since March 2020. A statistic we cannot escape is that as many as 30 percent of children enrolled in the government schools have not participated in computer-generated instruction.

There will be horrendous consequences for the vast majority of these as most will not recoup the years of lost instruction. Their entry into the workforce will therefore create special challenges.

We note that while touring schools yesterday, Davis said the government is still aiming to reopen schools this month despite a recent explosion in COVID-19 cases.

We were disappointed that the prime minister, a COVID-19 survivor who, unlike most infected Bahamians, had the opportunity to be flown to Atlanta to receive the best available medical care, did not give consideration to any additional strategies to curtail the irresponsible behaviors of individuals who display no regard for the health and welfare of others.

This was a missed opportunity.

While most Bahamians, including some in the previous government, would not advocate a repeat of previous hard shutdowns of the economy, many believe that more active enforcement of existing protocols now would promote increased responsible behaviors.

Community spread of COVID infections is particularly unnerving. The most careful can catch and are being infected by the virus seemingly when attending to essential matters like food shopping or visits to doctors’ offices, clinics, and pharmacies, or going to work.

Our hospitals are quickly becoming overwhelmed by the number of COVID-infected individuals requiring hospitalization. But hospitals are not alone in experiencing staff shortages, due to COVID exposures or infection. It cannot be long before hotels, restaurants, retail stores and other service providers find themselves squeezed by health-related staff shortages.

We believe that the prime minister should not permit his ill-conceived pledge not to employ lockdowns or curfews to stand in the way of leading us in this fight. It will take strong leadership to guide us out of the shadow of COVID.

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