We must do better than this

In the context of the government’s COVID-19 response, there may be no more keenly metaphoric an example of dubious battle strategy than the country’s two chief battle posts — the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) — being compromised and shuttered by the virus.

This week’s turn of events speaks not only to the stealthiness of the contagion that has wreaked havoc on nations worldwide, but to a litany of unanswered questions about hotspots and rates and modes of infection in-country, as well as how else we can flatten a curve that shows no sign of downward trend despite the ongoing national lockdown.

The Bahamas currently has the highest number of active COVID-19 cases in the English-speaking Caribbean; the second highest number of deaths therein behind Guyana; and in its number of tests trails regional leaders such as Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Barbados by ratios of 6:1; 4:1 and 2:1 respectively.

For months, we have questioned the government’s testing rationale, and when quizzed by reporters on whether widespread COVID-19 testing will be employed, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Pearl McMillan has on at least two occasions, stated that there is “no science” for testing outside of the guidance of assessing symptomatic individuals and their contacts.

The CMO’s position is curious, since representative sampling to seek to determine the scope of an outbreak is a defined science, and active surveillance — a method involving regular contact with the population or healthcare providers on health conditions — is a key, albeit capital and human resource-intensive, facet of public health surveillance.

Moreover, without plans to establish widespread or representative sampling modalities, we question how the government plans to avoid future lockdowns, and how it plans to transition from broad-based containment to isolating positive cases so that the rest of the country can continue to function.

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus is credited with the axiom, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Since the departures of Drs. Duane Sands and Merceline Dahl-Regis from the country’s pandemic response, a glaring dearth of information has rendered the land blind in the fight against COVID-19, leaving the one-eyed men of rumor, conjecture and conspiracy theories to reign over public discourse on the ongoing outbreak.

OPM issued a lengthy statement this week in response to criticisms levied by Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis about the government’s handling of the second wave of COVID-19 — a rapid reaction against the backdrop of key pieces of information government has yet to provide the public.

When Finance Minister Peter Turnquest and Education Minister Jeff Lloyd entered quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, government reported that both men had tested negative for the virus when it advised of their quarantine.

But to date, the government has not advised on whether Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has been tested for COVID-19 in the wake of his entrance into home quarantine, and what the test result is, particularly since Minnis claimed an individual at OPM who tested positive, had entered his office at some point.

The Cabinet Office advised of the closure of the Ministry of Health’s headquarters after “it was discovered” that a staffer had tested positive, indicating, however, that the staffer had not been into work since July 28 — two weeks ago.

Though this belated discovery prompted closure for deep cleaning and sanitization of the country’s primary response point for COVID-19, the government did not state whether the health minister or anyone at the ministry has been subsequently tested for COVID-19 — an incredible omission of information given the headquarters’ closure.

Regarding his self quarantine, Minnis reasoned that, “This may possibly be the will of the Lord…and maybe the Lord is sending the message informing The Bahamas that COVID is real and the pandemic is real and it can affect anybody.”

The prime minister is certainly entitled to his religious beliefs, and to it we invite him also to consider Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”

The nation is at a historic economic and social crossroad, the gravity of which Minnis and his government must rise to with a clear, proactive vision, and with full accountability for decisions taken and the reasons for them.

Most Bahamians already accept that COVID-19 is real.

What they do not accept is that the country’s response to it thus far is the best The Bahamas can muster.

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