As health officials continue to issue warnings about the risks associated with holding political events amid the worst surge in COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander, in a message to the government, said yesterday, “we have to make it make sense”.
Fernander, the latest in a growing group of observers to call for caution as the election season intensifies, said there cannot be one set of rules for political parties and another set for everyone else.
While political leaders have insisted that they will campaign safely, so far, there have been multiple events that made it possible to individuals to gather.
The BCC president said it seems that political organizations are throwing the health protocols “out of the window”.
“We ought to be careful and mindful that we are still in a pandemic and the large numbers that are on trucks and vans is unacceptable,” Fernander told The Nassau Guardian.
“We are doing more harm to ourselves and the…democracy we want to sustain in The Bahamas.”
The Bahamas continues to record a surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
More COVID cases (3,540) and COVID deaths were recorded in August than in any other month so far and health officials have warned that there is no expectation that the situation will improve in the immediate future, unless more restrictions are imposed.
However, despite the worsening situation that The Bahamas finds itself in, political parties continue to host public events in the run up to the September 16 election.
While the Free National Movement (FNM) has been having drive-in rallies, some FNM supporters left their vehicles during those rallies and mingled in groups.
The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) held a virtual rally on Saturday night, but also held a motorcade on New Providence over the weekend where some PLP supporters gathered on the backs of large trucks.
Fernander said it seems the church has to abide by rules that don’t apply to political organizations.
“This is the challenge we’ve had – that it is seemingly the church and the spiritual arm that is picked on, that these protocols weren’t going to work, yet these same protocols are used by them to do state funerals and the like,” Fernander said.
“Then the challenging part is to throw them (health protocols) all out the window and have these mass gatherings when we’re challenged to have 30 persons in a grave yard. At some point, we’ve got to make it make sense, and everything has to be above board and with all of us in mind.”
The Medical Association of The Bahamas (MAB) also expressed its grave concern over the mass gatherings that were held this weekend by campaigning political parties.
“The country is experiencing rapid escalation in the number of individuals becoming COVID-19-positive, needing hospitalization and of persons dying due to this devastating illness,” MAB said in a statement.
“These gatherings in the past have been observed as super spreader events. We look at data collected from countries in our region that have held elections during the pandemic and demonstrated a jump in cases post-election due to exposure during election campaigns. Our healthcare facilities are swamped and we are losing medical persons exposed to this deadly virus including physicians.
“If this trend continues, we will need to expand capacity for the probable increase in cases that will result from our instability to consistently enforce COVID-19 protocols during the campaign season.
“We call on the relevant authorities to enforce all campaigning protocols. Observing protocols saves lives and protects the Bahamian population at large. This is absolutely no time to let our guard down or ignore the intensity of this pandemic by participating in such careless behavior that put our lives at an even greater risk.”
Also expressing concern about mass gatherings was Consultant Physicians Staff Association President Dr. Sabriquet Pinder-Butler.
“I know we’ve already heard, ‘OK. We’re going to put protocols in place and persons have to stay in their cars, etc.’, but, unfortunately, when those things aren’t being properly policed, we don’t commit ourselves to those behaviors,” Pinder-Butler said on Sunday.
“You know, I think we’ve had a lot of motorcades recently and persons – despite best efforts to remind people – are still gathering, are still not wearing masks and are still seriously putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID at this time. I think that is extremely dangerous.
“That is extremely dangerous and concerning as well for healthcare providers and we don’t think it’s the right thing to do right now.”
She said these events can lead to an increase in cases “while the healthcare providers – physicians, nurses and other staff – are working hard to try and keep it together while we are also losing colleagues and family members and friends”.
The Bahamas has seen a wave of COVID deaths in the last several weeks.
Twenty-seven more COVID-related deaths were confirmed in The Bahamas over the weekend, 14 of which occurred in the previous week alone.
The latest deaths brought the country’s toll to 439. One hundred people have been confirmed to have died with COVID, but not because of it, while another 27 deaths are still under investigation.
Fernander urged Bahamians to remain cautious, wear masks and to get vaccinated.
“This virus is still here,” he noted.
“…Until we are out of this, let’s do what’s in our best interest, even if those who are in charge of us aren’t promulgating an example that’s best for us.”