‘How are we going to live?’

With heightened fears over COVID-19, some workers in downtown Nassau stores wore gloves as they went about their daily routines yesterday. 

Tamia Smith, 24, a manager at a souvenir store, was one such employee. 

“We’re spraying every hour on the hour,” she said of the precautions her workplace is taking in an effort to prevent the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19.

“We’re making sure we’re trying to keep everything wiped down as best we can; the less contact, the better.”

When asked if she is concerned about the new coronavirus, Smith said: “I am concerned about the virus, because it’s affecting our economy; not even just our health, most of all our economy.”

The store was without any shoppers when The Nassau Guardian visited yesterday, a situation which she said is not normally the case.

“Usually, around this time, there’s no place to walk in this store, there’s a lot of people,” she said.

“We get a lot of business, and we talk to a lot of customers, so, we have to distance ourselves from our customers, so, it’s very dry today. 

“Of course, you know this is the tourist industry, so less ships, less people.”

Even before The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that outbound cruise ship activity from the United States is suspended for 30 days. 

The usual throng of tourists in the downtown area yesterday was noticeably sparse. 

Smith said the store had actually been closed earlier in the day, but that management called staff to report in for noon. 

She added that she was still awaiting further instructions, as she noted a number of other souvenir stores in the area were actually closed. 

George Miller, the 37-year-old owner of a small shop selling handmade souvenirs near the cruise port, said he believes the stores were closed not in fear of coronavirus, but because of a slowdown in tourism.

He told The Guardian he had not even bothered opening up his shop for that very reason. 

“If there [are] no tourists, and we survive off tourists, how are we going to live?” Miller asked rhetorically. 

As he highlighted the challenges vendors like him will experience paying for basic utilities and even monthly rent, he added: “Everything right now is very hard.

“It’s going to be very, very hard for the next 30 days and then [schools are closed], so that means that’s more groceries you have to buy, because if your kids home all day, you have to buy. They’re eating three and four times. So, I don’t even know what to say.”

Miller said while he is concerned about health, his focus is more on the economic fallout being experienced as he believes there is nothing much that can be done about coronavirus aside from purchasing protective gear such as gloves or masks – neither of which he was wearing when The Guardian spoke with him.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that all schools are closed until April 14 in response to COVID-19, which has caused over 6,600 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. 

With over 168,000 cases reported, many countries have taken steps including closing borders, restricting travel and declaring states of emergency. 


Keeping coronavirus out of the buses

Downtown is also a central hub for many buses transporting residents and tourists around New Providence.

General Secretary of The Bahamas Unified Bus Drivers Union Corvell Colebrooke was equipped with a bar of soap, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a spray bottle containing a solution of alcohol, local pine and other ingredients intended to act as a sanitizer.

He demonstrated that frequently-touched surfaces like handles and automatic doors are being wiped down between every bus trip. 

“The whole idea is to keep sanitized,” he said.

“The soap is used to wipe our hands. Some use the gloves, some prefer not to use the gloves, but we use the soap to wash our hands with.”

Colebrooke said in some instances a bottle of water is kept on the bus so drivers can wash their hands, especially after touching money.

Some drivers stop at pumps to wash their hands, he added.

He also said the union is urging bus drivers to keep the air conditioning off, “because if somebody was to potentially come on with the sickness, it may get into the air condition and spread around, so we are asking the drivers to turn the air condition off at this time”.

Like Smith and Miller, Colebrooke noted the economic impact as a result of fewer tourists coming on cruise ships and fewer residents leaving their homes.

“Business is slow now in the transportation industry for us,” Colebrooke admitted.

“This is just the first day but we look at it, probably this week may be slow, but we’re looking like the second, third and fourth week might be completely dead [so] we know that it’s going to be extremely slow.

“[R]ight now, it is what it is. Some drivers are opting, may opt to take vacation, to take the time off, a break from the road.

“But we have to see how that goes. It’s got to be a conversation with some of the franchise holders/bus owners as to the procedure on how we want to do that.”

Asked if he feels prepared to deal with COVID-19, Colebrooke said “nobody is prepared for this virus”, but the union has been assisting the drivers to get ready.

“[W]e are very concerned because there is a potential that a lot of drivers could catch this virus,” he said.

“We have one case but then you know it only takes one to plant that seed and then that just runs like wildfire, and, so, that’s why we are trying our best to keep it down and keep it out of the buses.” 

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