The health minister’s confusing narrative

More than one year, nearly 200 deaths and inching toward 10,000 cases after COVID-19 was first reported in this country, we are certainly aware of the danger of the pandemic, but we struggle to understand what informs many of this administration’s actions.

Making the situation ever more opaque is Health Minister Renward Wells, who now tells us in no uncertain terms that with an uptick in COVID-19 cases in March due to flouting of social gathering permissions that do not exist on the island with the most cases, the prime minister isn’t afraid to make “hard decisions” about restrictions.

We have no doubt the prime minister has the capacity to make hard decisions; sometimes senseless decisions, rash decisions, inexplicable decisions, to be sure, but hard nonetheless.

However, we question whether some of his “hard decisions” are wise or informed.

It is concerning, but not surprising at this point, that the minister of health does not understand the rules implemented in the emergency order he and others claim is absolutely necessary to manage what is still being billed as a health crisis.

Outside Cabinet yesterday, Wells – as other politicians have done before – sought to defend the consistent political campaigning that has been ongoing over the past several weeks.

He did so not only belying the facts on the ground, but the very laws given effect by the Parliament’s forking over of nearly ultimate power to the prime minister as the competent authority under the Emergency Powers Act.

Wells told reporters that “even if you are going to be doing campaigning, that you do it within the ambit of the health protocols”.

“I believe right now you’re not supposed to have more than 20 persons gathering together in any one particular place. Twenty individuals are more than enough to do door-to-door campaigning, but you need to be able to social distance, wear your mask, hand sanitize,” said Wells.

We challenge the minister of health, or anyone else under the sun, to show where in the Emergency Powers (COVID 19 Pandemic) (Risk Management) (No. 4) Order 2020, or any of its subsequent amendments, social gatherings of up to 20 persons “in any one particular place” in New Providence are currently allowed.

It is a challenge one should be careful to take up, as Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday confirmed that social gatherings on New Providence are prohibited.

Aside from restaurants, churches, gravesides, parks, outdoor dining, and indoor dining at approved facilities, anything that could remotely be considered a social gathering in public or private on mainland Abaco, New Providence, Eleuthera and Exuma remain illegal, no matter the number of people.

If the intention of the government is to have allowed people to have social gatherings with up to 20 people at this point, it should amend the emergency order.

It was amended overnight to make it more difficult for people to travel from Eleuthera last week.

It cannot be that hard to amend the order as it pertains to social gatherings.

COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas nearly doubled in March over the previous two months, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

The vast majority of these were on Abaco, Grand Bahama and New Providence.

Wells, predictably, blamed this on social gatherings without an iota of scientific data.

“So whereas you can get together, remember before only 10 persons could have gotten together. We expanded it because of the low numbers,” Wells said.

“We had low numbers for nearly five months and so we expanded it to 20. And so, as we expanded it at the ending part of February, beginning of March, we began to see that uptick.

“We are going to have to look at those measures, those health protocols, and obviously the prime minister is an individual who is never afraid to make hard choices and decisions …”

We would appreciate a look at the data he is seeing and an understanding of what islands he is referring to.

The health minister also said he fears another uptick in cases because of increased social gatherings over the Easter holiday weekend.

That remains to be seen, but if it does occur, it would be nonsensical to think campaign events had nothing to with it.

Increased restrictions will not help as much as increased enforcement and adherence at this juncture.

And hard decisions seem less necessary now than ramping up vaccinations and an honest assessment of the behavior of those who are in leadership.

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