A well-intentioned effort to enhance the practice of social distancing and reduce the risks of the spread of the coronavirus by restricting access to food stores has backfired.
The introduction of a food shopping schedule by the government did not engender the calm intended, but rather stoked fears among the population that food supplies were running dangerously low.
Instead of shorter lines outside of food stores, inexplicably long lines have formed at every major food store particularly around New Providence and in Freeport, exactly in the two hot spots of contagion of the coronavirus.
Individuals of every age and income level are stubbornly forming and remaining on food store lines, in defiance of common sense, for up to two and three hours, dangerously exposing themselves and others to the spread of the virus.
Most disturbing is the complete disregard by many of any attempt to protect themselves from the spread of the virus.
Six feet spacing between individuals lined up outside of food stores is being observed only arbitrarily.
Too many are not using recommended non-medical face masks to cover their mouths and noses.
Alarmingly, law enforcement officers, deployed to assist shop managers organize and control the lines, have been seen removing their face masks to shout directions at unruly patrons.
And patrons, including those with face masks who removed them to shout back their disagreement at the police, and to argue with shop employees seeking to direct the lines or with other shoppers on the line, raise concerns.
Videos circulating online showing chaotic scuffling at the entrance to food stores are distressing.
The thought of the amount of invisible breath particles and spittle in the air between them is mind boggling, especially if one considers the potential for asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers to be among those on the lines.
There appears to be little to no understanding for the purpose of either social distancing or facial covering among far too many in our communities.
It is urgent for both the government and store owners to act now to stop the hysteria gripping residents.
The prime minister’s announcement of the extension of shopping hours to 10 p.m. should prove helpful. But additional efforts need to be undertaken.
Firstly, the government must redouble efforts to educate the population on the dangers of this disease and the need for social distancing and using masks to reduce the risk of the spread of the disease.
A part of this exercise should be the personalizing of the terrible results of this disease.
The clinical approach the government has used thus far, reducing infected individuals to a patient number, is dehumanizing.
It does not reflect the tragedy falling upon the ill patient nor his/her family. What is worse, it stigmatizes the disease as something to be hidden.
Everywhere internationally, citizens are informed of the many political leaders, entertainment celebrities, athletes, medical and other professionals who have been infected.
With the greatest of concern, their publics follow and pray for their recoveries.
Why should those infected in The Bahamas not have the same support expressed for them by their friends and neighbors?
Secondly, food wholesalers and food stores must do a better job of allaying fears of the public that supplies are low and running out.
American food store chains are doing an excellent job in this regard with television advertisements that show warehouses being replenished, shop shelves restocked, cashiers protected behind clear acrylic shields and customers provided with sanitizers on entry and departure from stores.
In Florida, increasing numbers of stores including food stores are refusing entry to any individual not wearing a face mask or some protective shield.
Simple instructions on how to make face masks from scarfs, T-shirts or other available material are easily accessible online. These, or Bahamian-made versions, can be run on a loop on all television stations as free public service announcements.
Finally, we recommend that the government and the food store owners consult on the most effective means of extending shopping for essential services throughout the period of this COVID-19 emergency.