The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases that has pushed us back into a painful national lockdown is the result of a medley of fault that rests with many.
After containing community spread, the natural discussion centered around reopening so we could breathe some life back into the failing economy, even if it meant keeping it on life support for the foreseeable future.
In early June, the Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee, comprised of Ministry of Tourism officials and industry stakeholders, presented the reopening plan, announcing a phased reopening that started June 15 and a full reopening on July 1.
There was a requirement that visitors coming to The Bahamas be tested for COVID-19 prior to travel. That could not provide a guarantee that the novel coronavirus would not travel here via airplane or sea vessel, but it could at least reduce the risk.
The competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who had faced criticisms over his decision to keep Bahamians out of The Bahamas after locking down the borders in March, decided that Bahamians and residents who leave the country for under 72 hours after July 1 could return without being tested.
As we have stated previously, that was a bad policy decision. Government and health authorities have said it played a key role in the surge we are currently experiencing.
After recording no new cases between June 15 and July 7, The Bahamas’ case count rose rapidly.
In the last four weeks, we have seen 611 new COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas — 322 of those on Grand Bahama alone. That island had not had a COVID-19 case since May 4.
The Bahamas has had 715 total confirmed cases.
The number of active cases is 608, there are 22 hospitalized cases and an additional three deaths in recent days has pushed the number of people who died from COVID-19 in the country to 14.
Many responsible Bahamian citizens and residents of the country who patiently pushed through the first lockdown, and who adhered to recommended health protocols in the weeks since, understandably feel disappointed and exasperated that we are back to square one.
Small and large businesses that were trying to keep their operations afloat have been driven to the edge of permanent collapse.
The jobless are feeling increasingly hopeless.
In announcing his decision to put The Bahamas back on lockdown, the prime minister on Monday night explained that the capacity of the health system to handle the crisis has essentially reached its limit.
He reported that ICU beds are maxed out and non-critical beds are approaching capacity.
Yesterday, scores of doctors and nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau “removed themselves” due to concerns related to suspected COVID-19 cases at the facility.
We are at a critical juncture.
To be clear, we are here because of policy failure, but we are also here because of a failure by some Bahamians to take personal responsibility for their role in ensuring public health is protected.
Infectious disease response requires multi-layered action, not just on the part of health and government officials, but on the part of citizens, residents and visitors acting in a responsible fashion.
Those of us who believe COVID-19 cannot happen to us; those who are tired of all the lockdowns and the social distancing and just needed to get out to have a good time, and who cannot be bothered to properly wear our masks at the grocery stores and elsewhere “because it is just too difficult to breathe in those things”; those who just needed a getaway to Florida after weeks of curfews and lockdowns in The Bahamas, are all responsible for where we are at.
Personal accountability and responsibility are crucial in the fight against this pandemic.
After this new lockdown, we will all need to still act responsibly.
The competent authority and the government, meanwhile, will have to have a better plan once community spread is again contained, for how to move us forward without the need to keep reverting to lockdowns.
While we will not be able to prevent all cases slipping through, we will need to be very restrictive with respect to allowing people in once our lockdown ends and we decide to jumpstart tourism.
Everyone coming must be tested.
The authorities also need to urgently increase resources for more efficient contact tracing and more testing, and must ensure strict adherence to quarantine. Those who violate quarantine should face the consequences.
With the economy on the brink of disaster and with so many people facing psychological strain as a result of this protracted health crisis, we cannot afford to make progress and end up at square one again.
Constantly reverting to lockdowns would for sure be counterproductive to all we are seeking to achieve. It would push not just our economy into the abyss, but many of us over the edge, emotionally and psychologically, worsening another developing crisis — the mental health crisis — that has gotten near zero attention during the pandemic.
Avoiding lockdowns is something the prime minister acknowledged when he spoke in the House of Assembly on July 22.
“I only want to remind and inform the Bahamian populace that COVID-19 is not going anywhere,” Minnis said.
“It’s going to be here with us until we have developed a vaccine, so we must learn to live with it.
“Our lives obviously will change, but we cannot lockdown, open up, lockdown, open up.
“That can’t continue and therefore we will have to determine the number and level we can live with.
“Our behavior pattern will have to change but COVID-19 is here with us until the vaccine is established.”
It is incumbent on the government to develop the proper exit strategy as we move through the lockdown.
Exploring similar challenges in the United Kingdom, John Connolly, professor in the School of Media, Culture and Society at the University of the West of Scotland, asked in a London School of Economics and Political Science blog on May 1: “What could be a forthcoming challenge for citizens in helping to resolve the crisis?”
Connolly continued: “The exit strategy needs to be clear and devoid of confusion. Phasing crisis restrictions, perhaps for certain parts of the country and for different groups (be they age groups or types of industries), risks the public lacking confidence in how best to adhere to new measures.
“If the exit strategy lacks clarity, then the pendulum of blame risks being swung more towards the government’s direction. Clear communication will be very important for ensuring that the government remains within the good graces of public opinion and for ensuring that the public have what they need to continue to take personal responsibility going forward.”