Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Pearl McMillan seemed to be in a tight spot when asked more than once at a press conference on Wednesday what health authorities’ position was on campaign activities even amid growing concern about increased COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
McMillan was asked the question about campaigning after she urged Bahamians to refrain from social gatherings in general, advising that parties and events can wait.
Hesitantly, she indirectly addressed the issue of political activities in an obvious attempt to avoid offending or scolding the political directorate directly.
McMillan said, “There should not be gatherings that are above and beyond what has been agreed upon in the emergency orders as well as you need to wear your mask. You need to continue to sanitize … Those types of gatherings should not be occurring and certainly, individuals have a responsibility to protect themselves and others by not availing themselves of such events, be they political, be they a party, be they a gathering of family.”
At that same press conference, the CMO advised that The Bahamas experienced a “marked increase” in cases for four consecutive weeks.
She reported that 146 new cases were recorded last week. McMillan indicated this number is probably lower than it would have been because testing centers were either closed or had reduced hours for the Easter holiday period.
By the end of the same week in question one year ago, The Bahamas had recorded just 24 cases, not just for that week but since the first case was reported on March 15.
During the first week in April 2020, in contrast to now, the country was facing significant restrictions, including a lockdown and an extended closure of its borders. There were long lines outside grocery stores as there were strict orders on who could shop when.
Most businesses were closed. People were asked to refrain from visiting homes where they do not live and only essential workers could move about during the Easter holidays.
Back then, had we seen 146 cases in a single week, there would likely have been widespread alarm. That number of cases in a single week is more than all the cases recorded in The Bahamas in the first wave, which ended in June.
At that point, we had recorded 104 total cases and 11 deaths. Five cases were active.
A year later, we have recorded more than 9,000 cases and 189 deaths. We have come through a brutal second wave and health officials say a third wave appears to be forming.
Officials reported 92 cases in the first four days of April alone.
The government’s vaccine program has finally started, but we do not now have enough doses to vaccinate a large portion of our population. Just over 10,000 people in the country have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to date.
So far, the government has received 53,600 doses. It is expecting 67,200 next month.
With so many individuals suffering loss of loved ones, job losses and a decreased quality of life as a result of the pandemic, many people have grown weary of the restrictive measures put in place.
There is no appetite for any lockdowns or other strict measures to beat back the third wave. Many businesses are still struggling, trying to figure out how to survive in this difficult economy.
And while Health Minister Renward Wells has warned that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis is not afraid to make the hard decisions to control the spread of the virus, there is no doubt the competent authority will also have political considerations in deciding how to respond to the recent case spike.
Our leaders, meanwhile, continue to send conflicting messages. The current emergency order prohibits social gatherings on New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma.
Yet political parties continue to gather for events and to campaign. The health minister sees no issue with this, neither does the prime minister.
Since the start of this brutal pandemic, we have decried the uneven application of the emergency measures put in place by the competent authority.
Our leaders continue to expect the masses to do as they say, but not as they do. This approach is not helpful in getting us beyond these dark days of COVID.
As the prime minister makes the hard decisions to curb the spread of the virus, he should also be mindful that in addition to pandemic fatigue, many Bahamians have had enough of the double standards employed in his haphazard response to COVID-19.