We need unity in the face of COVID

Dear Editor,

COVID-19 has exposed a dangerous fault-line in our public discourse.

Our political leaders are not singing from the same sheet of music to address the pandemic.

As a result, we the people are getting mixed messages. The lack of clarity plus the loutish behavior of some of us has put the nation at risk.

The PLP has second guessed the FNM government from jump-street.

The legal community duked it out with the glitterati of the profession openly disagreeing on the very constitutionality of lockdown and mitigation efforts.

Kudos, however, to the leaders of the Anglican and Catholic churches who largely shepherded their flock with a message – be your brother’s keeper – that was based in both science and religion.

That meant wearing a mask, social distancing and proper hygiene.

But the real failure has been on political messaging. And let’s not forget that, after months of lockdown and curfews, many people were antsy and looking to break free of their home confinement.

Police desk sergeants could have exercised more discretion before charging every curfew violator.

Magistrates needed to balance the need to show stoicism with the capacity to show mercy.

Unlike our Caribbean cousins, we live just a stone’s throw away from the world’s biggest COVID hotspot, South Florida. When they exhale without a mask, we catch COVID.

Making public policy is much like making sausage. It isn’t pretty, but it could be palatable, if executed correctly.

No doubt under pressure from merchants and others to open the economy to tourists, the government was faced with the improbable dilemma of opening the border one way.

If tourists could come in, then surely Bahamians should be allowed to go out and come back.

So, thousands of Bahamians ignored the prime minister’s earnest pleas that they should not go to Florida, except in cases of emergency.

As soon as the border opened on July 1, by the plane and ferry boat loads, obstinate citizens descended on the malls and the aisles of mega-stores in Miami.

Hard head bird don’t make good soup.

There was confusion over the policy for those returning after less than 72 hours in Florida. They didn’t need a negative COVID test to return but they did need to self-isolate for 14 days.

It appears that was the weakest link in the policy. Had it been strictly enforced we might not have had an explosion in positive cases.

There were unconfirmed reports of residents returning and immediately carrying on as if they had not just been in a US state that was recording 15,000 positive cases a day in July.

In true Pavlovian fashion, the returnees read the prime minister like a book.

Able to foreshadow the pending lockdown on Grand Bahama, they scurried away to New Providence, Abaco and other islands, spreading the virus with surgical efficiency.

We are not alone in this. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and others are all seeing dramatic spikes in COVID cases tied to the easing of border restrictions in June and July.

There is the dubious claim that the medicine (lockdown) is worse than the virus. We must reject this unscientific myopic thinking. We will slow our return to a robust tourism economy if COVID goes on a tear through our communities.

Scientists tell us that until there is a vaccine, the only way to mitigate COVID is to limit its spread. Lockdown is the best way to do that when the population refuses to respect mask and social distancing rules.

When we sealed the border and put everyone on lockdown in March we flattened the curve. A false sense of security ensued.

With the PLP leader temporarily off the battle field with the virus, we must hope for his speedy and complete recovery and that the PLP rethinks its messaging around lockdowns. They have a voice in this war.

Those lawyers grandstanding and seeking mileage from vexatious lawsuits in the middle of the pandemic should likewise rethink their position. Tort claims can wait until after the virus is vanquished.

All religious leaders should follow the lead of the Anglicans and Catholics and urge their flock to be their brother’s keeper.

The illustrious Dame Joan Sawyer should reserve a future date to lecture at Eugene Dupuch Law School. There and then she could expand on arcane points of law that will inform the constitutional debate for which she is obviously spoiling.

In short, the grown-ups need to rally behind one message, to wit, every single Bahamian life is important and must be protected from COVID-19.

Bahamians of faith know only too well that our own individual well-being is forever bound to the well-being of everyone else in these islands.

If your neighbor’s house is on fire, help him – and wet yours.

The Graduate

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