Leading by fear and blame

Repeated appeals for this country’s COVID-19 pandemic response to be firmly rooted in science, generally arise from the understanding that arbitrary decision-making creates more problems than it solves.

Rather than persuasion through properly interpreted and applied data, fear has become the ammunition of coercion, and blame for incidences of COVID-19 the rod of correction brought down on Bahamians, who are subjected to almost daily reprimands of being at fault for the local existence of a disease scientists worldwide agree is airborne.

These have been primary tools in the arsenal of the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis.

Disquietingly, the prime minister appears to view his rapid fire of emergency orders as leading from the front in the COVID-19 fight, and his insular brand of stewardship that alienates the country’s medical professionals, the press and the public, does not augur well for necessary outcomes in the pandemic response moving forward.

Last month, we urged government not to fail our healthcare workers who are the first line of defense in the fight against COVID-19, and highlighted calls for dialogue with Minnis made by the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA).

The CPSA renewed its public consternation this week, stating that its calls have fallen on deaf ears, and that the association which represents senior physicians in the country’s healthcare system, has yet to be given an audience with the prime minister since he became minister of health.

The association was among voices calling on government to reverse its initial plan of allowing visitors to enter the country without a COVID-19 test.

Though COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly a disease as initially feared, the concern for healthcare systems is surges and rapid influxes of patients that could push resources to the breaking point, and threaten the safety of healthcare workers.

The prime minister’s continued failure to consult with this key segment of the country’s healthcare system, is a troubling indication that the system might not be as prepared for the COVID-19 fight in an atmosphere of open borders, as it needs to be.

Grand Bahama’s Infectious Disease Unit, for example, continues to struggle with historic understaffing, though its volume of work and surveillance has increased exponentially due to COVID-19.

For a population of over 50,000 on 95 miles of island now grappling with an uptick in COVID-19 cases and increased need for testing and contact tracing, the unit is assigned only two physicians and four nurses, whose surveillance of and response to all other infectious diseases, must also continue.

The infection fatality rate of COVID-19 is estimated at between 0.2 percent and 1 percent, and of the over five million active cases of the disease worldwide, 99 percent of those infected have only mild symptoms.

It is a statistic that is not given nearly the attention it ought to receive, and is important to recognize because fear that COVID-19 is an automatic death or disability sentence, is being used worldwide to convince citizens to hand over carte blanche, their freedoms and ability to provide for themselves, to their government.

It is also important to recognize the illogic of exclusively blaming the Bahamian people for the recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases, as if officials consider it impossible for the virus to have also been brought to our shores by visitors.

Countries in the region whose borders re-opened in recent weeks have recorded increased cases, all of which are said by their governments to be imported both by visitors and nationals.

The decision to reopen our borders at a time when our principal travel market was recording record surges in COVID-19 cases, obviously heightened our risk level for importation of the disease.

And it is not publicly known whether confirmed cases may have contracted the virus directly from guests, or from unconfirmed cases who have had contact with infected visitors.

A lax in adherence to safety protocols has been observed both in the general public and among policymakers and those charged with enforcing emergency orders, a scenario which must improve.

But it is inconceivable that invariably unenforceable lockdowns and other restrictions are being considered while our borders remain open to travelers from COVID-19 hotspots.

If the prime minister’s recent and emotive parliamentary contribution heralding death and doom are any indication, we could be in for new emergency orders girded by fear and blame rather than by data upon which science is driven.

Arbitrary decision-making creates more problems than it solves.

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