Throughout the pandemic, there has been a stubborn dichotomy between the competent authority’s stated goals of controlling the country’s outbreak, and his emergency management style, which, on balance, has often run counter to those goals.
A goal that has recently taken on a thrust of urgency is the full reopening of the economy, which was dealt a devastating blow by the global impact of COVID-19, and by emergency orders, which brought domestic commerce outside of the provision of essential services to a standstill.
In furtherance thereof, a plan to end the country’s state of emergency when the current proclamation of emergency expires on August 13, is said to be in the cards.
Many are no doubt anxious to see the back end of a suspension of constitutional rights and of one-man rule carved out for Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, but the economy is not a faucet that can simply be turned off and on again, with the expectation that commerce will flow as it did prior to the pandemic.
In order to support economic growth and bolster investor and consumer confidence, a legislative framework designed to manage the ongoing pandemic outside of emergency orders ought to have already been executed by the Minnis administration.
Though Attorney General Carl Bethel indicated on several occasions that legislation to provide for the management of emergencies is being drafted, his reminder this week that a fresh proclamation by the governor general could be issued, should cases spike again, begs the question of where this proposed legislation stands.
Should a fresh proclamation be issued after August, it would be on the advice of the Cabinet – a Cabinet which seems not to appreciate that announcing the planned end of the current state of emergency, while stressing that a new one could be just around the corner, creates precisely the kind of uncertainty that undermines the stated goals of a full reopening of the economy.
Government has taken a three-month vacation from the House of Assembly, with an intention to return to the House on September 22 – a move reminiscent of its near three-month vacation taken just a month after assuming office in May 2017.
Health Minister Renward Wells told reporters that the House adjournment date, which is set for more than a month after the current proclamation expires, is evidence of the administration’s plan to move on from its state of emergency.
But while government was planning its respite from the people’s business in Parliament, no evidence exists that it recognizes the implications of a falling away of emergency orders that will occur once that proclamation expires.
Those orders cover the gamut of pandemic protocols, including border rules for travelers, quarantine orders, mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits on social gatherings.
It is hardly a hackneyed mantra that to fail to plan, is to plan to fail.
Having failed to ensure that a legislative framework is in place once the state of emergency ends, government could be in effect setting itself and the country up for unaffordable failure.
Though the administration is pushing for herd immunity, variables including COVID variants impacting vaccine effectiveness, and current science that is inconclusive on the ability of COVID vaccines to prevent transmission, make herd immunity to COVID-19 a far less simple matter than having a set number of adults take the jab.
Nevertheless, just 6.4 percent of adults in The Bahamas are fully vaccinated – a proportion well below that which is suggested for herd immunity.
Officials worldwide warn that the deadly and highly transmissible Delta variant is expected to become the dominant strain of the pandemic.
Once current emergency orders fall away in August, there will no longer be protocols with the force of law in place to manage the COVID situation in-country, placing the country at higher risk of new outbreaks that will invariably derail plans for economic recovery, not to mention threaten the health of residents and the viability of the healthcare system.
Government’s extended break from the Parliament suggests that the administration believes it can now coast through to the end of its term, with an open economy that it thinks will come roaring back without a plan.
But managing the pandemic outside of the ease of emergency orders is where the real work begins, and it seems hard work at this stage is the last thing on the government’s mind.