The most difficult decision
Since March, The Bahamas has been in various stages of lockdown. Initially, it was anticipated that things would be somewhat back to normal by the first of July, as far as tourism is concerned. The lockdown has been onerous, but the results have been somewhat remarkable when we consider what has happened and is happening around the world. Most of the developed nations of the world have suffered immense tragedy and turmoil – particularly among older citizens.
The economic, psychological and emotional fallout has also been tremendous. We have watched in horror as the hospitals have filled up and as stadiums and warehouses converted into temporary intensive care units; and we watched daily interviews with persons who have lost loved ones because of COVID-19. All the while, The Bahamas, after going through an initial spike that resulted in 11 deaths, had seen a flattening of the curve and an extended period of no cases. (As of the writing of this column, health officials on Tuesday, July 14, reported three new cases, bringing the total countrywide confirmed COVID-19 cases to 116 – 84 on New Providence, 18 on Grand Bahama, 13 on Bimini and one on Cat Cay.) As we cautiously celebrated our victory over COVID-19, there remained an ominous and foreboding decision – open up or remain closed? If we remain closed, we are virtually assured of a mostly COVID-19-free environment.
To maintain a COVID-19-free environment, we have to essentially cut off our economic lifeline. The country that provides our economic lifeline has mishandled the pandemic; our closest neighbor and economic contributor is in the midst of an unprecedented spike and the epicenter is Miami, Florida, which is the main artery of our economy. Bahamians are complaining, there is economic hardship and concern is growing, yet if we open up too soon, it could be worse. What do we do? There is no guaranteed right decision, and everything has to be weighed carefully. Initially, I was 100 percent for opening the economy carefully and judiciously. Now, I am having second thoughts.
The rates of infection are so high in South Florida that I am almost of the opinion that it may have been better to delay for another month, as the Florida spike would have subsided by then, as in the case of New York and other hard-hit states. Then, we would open up with a greater level of comfort that the number of imported cases would be minimum.
This may all be a moot point as we have already opened up with strict guidelines and stipulations. Will they be enough? Only time will tell.
Perhaps we are right to allow the tourists in to stimulate our very challenged economy. Only time will tell if we made the right decision. My initial thought when we had no cases for several months was at the very least, we allow boaters and private jets in and use them as a test before allowing in commercial entities. Boaters do not have to mingle with the local population much; they could enjoy the beaches and amenities, have food delivered to their boats and if they do dine out, do so in outdoor-only settings with social distancing and other protocols being observed.
The greater fear is not from tourists coming in, but locals traveling to Miami to do business or visit medical facilities who would contract the virus and bring it back to The Bahamas with the potential for causing community spread as is the case in Florida and was the case in New York. The anguish and challenge of this decision is obvious. I do not envy the prime minister and Cabinet at this time. They have done a commendable job to this point and this decision could validate their efforts or cause all of the fine work done to evaporate in a hail of droplets.
After much thought, I believe the right decision would have been to open up but not to all U.S. states. Florida, Texas and other states that have seen massive spikes should have been put on a revised timetable of at least one more month. Other states that have had relatively low infection rates could have been prioritized and the hotbed states released from the stop list as their situation improved. I am not sure if this is a feasible approach, but I believe it would have given us our best chance. Requiring a negative COVID-19 test is good, but with the seven-to-10-day window, it allows for possible infection during the wait period before travel.
Hopefully, we have made the right decision and it all works out for the better. If not, we could be in for a reimposition of lockdown and economic exclusion of tourists. Time will tell. We must all pray for wisdom for our prime minister as the decisions he is tasked with at the moment are indeed life and death decisions. The Bible admonishes us to pray for those in authority and for all leaders and as the song refrain goes – if we never needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now. Be safe Bahamas.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to email@example.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.