Focus on COVID-19

The world’s focus remains on COVID-19 as the virus continues its international spread.

Almost hourly, one can expect to learn from an American broadcaster advice on the latest numbers of diagnosed infections, in particular, American cities and states and more generally nationally. Added to this is the drama of a second quarantined Princess cruise ship, this one off the coast of San Francisco, California, with growing numbers of infected persons among its passengers and crew.

These numbers are supplemented by updates on the numbers of positive COVID-19 diagnoses internationally in China, South Korea, Iran and western Europe, particularly Italy, France and Germany.

Often it seems the fear of the spread of the virus is becoming as or more dangerous than the disease itself.

Growing numbers of Chinese nationals and persons of Chinese heritage in North America are finding themselves stigmatized by ordinary people on the streets, at social gatherings and in places of business — notwithstanding that most of these individuals would not have visited mainland China in the period leading up to or since the outbreak of the epidemic — are not infected by the novel coronavirus and are not carriers.

Such a story was recently chronicled in an opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times Review by Celine Tien entitled “I’m Chinese. That Doesn’t Mean I Have the Virus”. We believe it a timely piece to caution against prejudice and racism that so easily creep into ordinary language and behaviors in times of crisis.

Many countries, including The Bahamas, are predictably placing travel bans to and from countries with growing numbers of infections, notwithstanding advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) that such bans seldom prevent the spread of any disease.

Still, in the midst of growing international hysteria it becomes increasingly difficult for decision makers in small, dependent economies like The Bahamas to do otherwise, particularly given how critically important it is for us to offer assurances to visitors to our shores – whether for business or pleasure – that all that is necessary is being done to prevent, to the extent possible, the spread of the virus to and around our country.

The government has continued to inform the public of its actions on the health planning front. Apart from the maintenance of the Bahamas Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, the ministry has taken full page notices in the newspapers setting out five simple, easy steps that residents and visitors are encouraged to follow to help reduce the risk of infection.

This is and must remain an apolitical effort to promote health and protect the general public.

We urge all those in positions of leadership in our community, civil and religious, to support the government’s action in this regard.

We were especially pleased to learn of action taken by both the Roman Catholic archbishop and by the Anglican bishop to inform their membership, through pastoral letters read at their services and distributed among the membership, of the facts of the virus and its spread, on actions being taken by those churches to minimize the risks of coronavirus spread at church gatherings and to encourage members to practice the same behaviors being advised by the Ministry of Health.

We hope and expect that the government will do the necessary steps to ensure that its health advisories reach all portions of our population, including those classified as “undocumented”.

The danger of short-sighted policies that deny healthcare access to non-nationals was the subject of a New York Times editorial this weekend; the long and short of the advice was sensibly encapsulated in its heading: “Coronavirus doesn’t check your papers”. We fully agree.

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