Op-Ed

This, too, shall pass

 “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King

Never in the history of human existence have we experienced such a disastrously destructive global phenomenon as the novel coronavirus, aka COVID-19.

For the first time, humanity has universally coalesced to focus on an existential threat, created by this pandemic and fueled by pervasive fears and uncertainties, eagerly and anxiously anticipating the promise of a modern miracle of medical science.

For the first time, since Homo sapiens emerged from his cavernous dwellings, we are threatened by a universally perilous menace to the continued existence of the species. And while there have been worldwide pandemics such as the bubonic plague in the 14th Century and the Spanish flu in the 20th Century, each time we have emerged from these death-dealing catastrophes to recover and rebuild our societies to ensure the continuation of our civilization.

Therefore, this week, amid a clear and present danger to the continuity of life as we know it, we would like to consider this — like other worldwide pandemics, what more information do we need so we can realistically expect that this, too, shall pass?

How did we get here?

In the early days of the pandemic, The Bahamas, under the leadership of the competent authority, performed admirably.

We experienced lockdowns and curfews since March; we closed our borders to all international travelers and Bahamians who were unable to return home before the borders closed.

We experimented with and endured the questionably conceived and poorly executed alphabetical shopping excursion days.

By and large, Bahamians subjugated their civil liberties and obeyed the promulgations of the competent authority. The measures adopted resulted in an impressive statistic of 104 positive COVID-19 cases between March 15 and June 30, and only 11 deaths.

Also during that time, Bahamians observed that preferential treatment was given to foreigners over the sons and daughters of our soil. Some of those foreigners were given “better, better” concessions, although theoretically “it’s the people’s time”.

The preferential treatment of foreigners over Bahamians was so egregious that the then minister of health had to resign from the Cabinet.

Then all hell broke loose. The competent authority announced that the national borders would open on July 1, and Bahamians would be allowed to travel abroad, staying away for a period of up to 72 hours without any testing of their infectious status before returning home and with no mandatory quarantine once they were back in The Bahamas.

This recent decision, as well as undisciplined citizen behavior, resulted in a tsunami of positive cases. Not only have the number of cases exploded, but they have also affected more islands of our archipelago.

As of Saturday, the Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 1,252 positive cases, a 12-fold increase in 45 days, on 10 islands of The Bahamas.

Unanswered questions abound

There are many unanswered questions that must be honestly addressed by the competent authority if the public’s declining confidence in our future is to be restored.

There is fast fading faith that the government has adequate control of many issues regarding this pandemic, so these are just some of the questions whose answers are needed to help bring back belief and confidence in our leaders.

1. When will the competent authority advise the Bahamian people about a comprehensive plan regarding the management of this pandemic and what specific milestones must be achieved to relax the prohibitions that he has implemented? What will it take to discontinue the shutdowns and lockdowns?

2. What specific plans have been developed to ensure that more Bahamians are tested to detect whether they are infected? It is inadequate and unsatisfactory to wait for people to present with symptoms of the disease before they are tested. Furthermore, is there any indication that the government has increased its capacity for testing or to ensure effective case management throughout the course of one’s infection?

3. Does the government plan to accelerate its testing, and if so, when will this occur?

4. Will the government confirm that it has established an effective contact tracing system to ensure it can accurately trace people who have encountered those infected by the virus? How effective has this contact tracing been in identifying positive cases that have resulted from such tracing, and how many of those identified are being continuously monitored?

5. Will the competent authority take responsibility for the dramatic surge in positive cases since the country opened its borders on July 1, 2020? If he will not take responsibility, will he advise the Bahamian people and residents who is responsible for the dramatic surge?

6. Will the government commit to providing more information on a timely basis? For example, we should be advised about the age, gender and island of residence of people who have been hospitalized. Also, we should be informed regarding the presence of comorbidities among the cases.

7. Does the competent authority admit that the islands with no cases should not have been treated the same way as the islands that recorded positive cases? Does he agree that he was mistaken to lock down and close the economies of those islands that did not have any positive cases?

8. Will the competent authority advise what measures are being taken to provide enhanced protections for the uniform branches, including the police and defense forces, customs and immigration officers, and members of the public service who work outside medical facilities but are especially vulnerable because they come into constant contact with members of the public?

9. When will the competent authority provide detailed information on the number of people in the uniformed branches who are infected and, more importantly, what measures are being taken regarding such individuals?

10. Will the government advise the public on the number of backlogged cases of people who have been tested, but for whom tests have not been completed?

11. Will the competent authority advise the public on the average amount of time it is taking for COVID-19 tests to be completed?

12. Will the competent authority advise the public on what he has done or plans to do to address why there is such a small number of recovered active cases listed as compared to the number of cases?

On June 30, there were 89 recovered cases out of the 104 total positive cases of COVID-19; as of Saturday, there were 160 recovered cases listed out of 1,252 positive cases, an increase of only 71 recovered COVID-19 patients in the last month and a half while we watched the total positive cases increase by 1,148.

The Centers for Disease Control defines COVID-19 recoveries as a positive individual receiving two consecutive negative PCR test results taken at least 24 hours apart. Is the problem, once again, the availability of testing to determine that a patient has recovered?

As of last week, The Bahamas ranked last in the Global COVID-19 Index Report of 184 countries for its recoveries.

13. In light of the recent closure of the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Works, Ministry of Health and the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, what protocols have been implemented to ensure that, when those offices reopen, the employees and visitors to those offices will be provided increased sanitary measures to mitigate the transmission of the disease?

14. Can the competent authority substantiate the listed COVID-19 death toll? Are there protocols in place to perform post-mortem COVID-19 tests on previously undiagnosed individuals who may have succumbed to COVID-19-like symptoms so that we can establish a more accurate COVID-19 death toll?

15. Regarding the daily COVID-19 Dashboard, will the competent authority advise the public as to what period of time the increase in cases represents? Does the number of new cases listed reflect tests done over the preceding 24 hours or the preceding week? Not knowing this creates a concern that our cases are going up astronomically each day, which might not be a true picture of our circumstances.

16. Finally, what assurance can the competent authority give us that this lockdown is being strictly enforced? Are there patrols scanning the lines at the food stores and pharmacies to ensure that social distancing is being practiced?

Are officers checking the cars that seem to choke our roads to ascertain that the vehicles carry only one designated person from each household and not the entire family and close friends? And, finally, how is the correct way to wear a mask being enforced — covering not just the mouth, but the nose as well — because wearing a mask without covering the nose is a very good way to spread COVID-19?

Having a lockdown without enforcement of its rules is rather like wearing a mask improperly: a good way to spread COVID-19.

Conclusion

While we are living in what might seem to be the worst of times and aimless meandering in uncharted territory, we should not lose perspective.

The Spanish flu of 1918 reportedly claimed 100 million lives during four phases in as many years.

That pandemic occurred during the First World War, which itself caused 40 million military and civilian casualties.

The Spanish flu and World War I were immediately followed by the stock market crash in 1929, which triggered a worldwide economic depression, which was followed by World War II. That second global conflict claimed another 80 million lives.

It certainly must have appeared to be “the end of times”, and that the world was coming to an apocryphal end.

It really must have been unnerving for people who experienced those four life-changing, traumatic worldwide events.

However, humanity, like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of those four traumatic decades of the 20th Century, survived and excelled beyond their wildest expectations.

We are living in an era that demands inspiring and creative leadership. We need leaders who will courageously lead us out of this pandemic, clearly articulate the way forward and implement workable solutions.

Many of those solutions will require further sacrifice by all, but we have demonstrated that we are prepared to accept what is asked of us for the greater common good.

We simply cannot expect to endure sustained shutdowns and national lockdowns as the only means to extricate us from this national quagmire.

We need to rethink our approach, reset our course and research the best practices of those nations which have succeeded.

Then we must tweak and indigenize those best practices and incorporate them into our culture to create the change and begin the recovery we so desperately need.

The sooner we do this, the sooner we can develop a realistic expectation that this, too, shall pass.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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