“We cannot lock down, open up, lock down, open up. That can’t continue,” declared the prime minister in the House of Assembly last Wednesday, indicating that not only does doing so frustrate the citizenry “but you destroy your economy and your international reputation for good”.
Yet, here we are.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere,” the competent authority said that day.
“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 lock down, open up, lock down, open up. That can’t continue. Therefore, we will have to determine, as to the number and level we can live with and our behavioral patterns will have to change.”
We could not agree more with the prime minister’s assessment.
If we are to live with COVID-19, then it will require a plan.
The question is, where is it?
We have been locked down yet again at a moment’s notice.
The prime minster said that health officials have also put a full national lockdown on the table for government consideration.
Meantime, while the populace frets over that possibility, the national curfew has been expanded.
Gyms have once again been shuttered.
Many other businesses have either closed or have had their operating hours scaled back significantly.
Attendance at church services has been stopped.
Weddings and funerals were cancelled abruptly, causing emotional and financial distress to families and those in the industry.
The border has been effectively closed to tourists with the rigorous quarantine requirements for visitors.
Domestic travel has been suspended.
We are clearly still drifting from pillar to post, making policy decisions then changing those decisions days later without clarity or announcements.
The health care plant is still not at a capacity to deal with a large outbreak, according to the briefing given by new Health Minister Renward Wells during a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said at that same press conference that there is a total of 30 COVID-19 beds on New Providence and 16 on Grand Bahama.
This leads us to wonder what was being done to boost this number and prepare for an increase in COVID-19 cases, which many reopened Caribbean countries have experienced, while the number of hospitalizations was still low.
Wells and the prime minister said that the new health minister has been tasked with strengthening the nation’s healthcare infrastructure.
We question whether Wells’ immediate charge should not be putting in place the structure for better COVID-19 management.
The previous lockdowns and emergency measures were said to be done to flatten the curve and to buy time to bolster the healthcare plant to better deal with hospitalizations.
This is week 20 of the state of emergency being in place.
This drive should have started during week one.
The plan to protect lives while keeping some semblance of an economy should have started during week one.
It is quite apparent there was never a plan in place for an increase in cases after the reopening of the borders with flawed protocols, other than lock things back down when the number of cases rose dramatically.
The competent authority seems to be woefully vacillating between too stringent measures and ineffective half measures.
The cries of the novel coronavirus pandemic being a situation the world has not dealt with in over a century are beginning to sound like excuses for a lack of strategic planning.
There also seems to be a lack of proper consultation.
A Cabinet government has the benefit of multiple points of view informing public policy.
The consultations among ministers are often helpful in bringing perspectives to bear that the prime minister and other minsters may have not thought of.
In the case of tourism, this is critical.
We understand that senior officials often learn of measures announced by the competent authority as he announces them.
One day, the borders are shut to commercial travelers from the US.
Days later, after international media spread the story around the globe, borders reopen with unattractive entry conditions.
At the beginning of the month, a widespread domestic travel campaign starts.
Before the end of the month, domestic travel is prohibited.
Yes, the situation is fluid, but it is not unmanageable.
Jamaica recently announced that it has generated $80 million from 40,000 tourists who have entered in the last month.
The Bahamas could desperately use that kind of cash inflow at this time.
Jamaica has established a resilience corridor along its northern coast and has appointed wardens to monitor the corridor where the tourists are confined.
There are rapid tests done on entry to Jamaica and mandatory use of a tracking and reporting app that visitors must download.
Though our geography is different, there are lessons to be learned from Jamaica’s approach.
While debating the latest extension of the state of emergency in the House of Assembly last week, Progressive Liberal Party Deputy Leader Chester Cooper asked the government where is its plan for the country in a world where COVID-19 remains a reality.
“The Bahamian people are hurting and our economy is crumbling and our society is facing real pain as a result of this crisis,” Cooper said.
“And where is your plan for the new normal? Are we going to live in emergency orders indefinitely? We’re not hearing a plan as to how we’re going to transition from the emergency orders into the new normal.”
Cooper is correct.
We cannot live under emergency orders indefinitely.
The prime minister is correct.
Repeated lock downs will likely destroy our economy and our international reputation.
The Bahamian people would like to know what his administration plans to do about it.