Who’s to blame?

Dear Editor,

Drinking a cup of hot coffee is not at all strange or usually harmful. Drinking hot coffee from a cup while driving has the potential for harm. Consider a driver indulging in a cup of hot coffee and traveling on the proper side of the road, suddenly experiences a spill of the contents of the cup over himself, which proves to be distracting.

At this point, losing control of the vehicle, he swerves onto the pedestrian pathway and runs down a person, producing fatal injuries. Accidental vehicular death.

Is it likely that the driver will be permitted to nonchalantly walk away with a casual expression of regret, just saying, “Oops, I’m sorry”? If you consider that that would be a sufficient response to the surviving family members of the deceased, then please don’t waste your time reading further, as what I have to say will probably only annoy you and I do not wish to do so.

I do hope that you will think about what I have to say.

If, however, you consider that the driver in this scenario should be appropriately charged with something along the lines of “killing in the course of dangerous driving” or “involuntary vehicular manslaughter”, then you may be interested in my view that the extant prime minister and the minister of tourism and aviation have to be held to account for their decisions during May 2020 through to the end of July 2020 for the increase of deaths from the COVID pandemic.

You will recall the timeline and information available to them. By the end of May 2020, we had recorded 102 COVID cases and 11 deaths. The government might have made mistakes during the period from February through April but they, like political leaders all over the world, were in the learning phase of how to deal with the pandemic.

They might have callously disregarded sensible advice, but a case could be made that they acted with the best of intentions and had to make hard decisions faced with options, which were all fraught with danger. I, personally, consider that they acted far too cavalierly; but I do not offer a scientific argument to prove my view, so it really matters little.

My concern is with the July 2020 period and the decisions made in the eight weeks before July 1, 2020.

The prime minister was under a great deal of pressure to “restart the economy”. The local news was replete with the views from the public of the desperate need to do so.

The news on American television was of their president pressing for a reopening of their economy. There was serious pushback, but his message rang loud in the American public’s media options.

Florida’s political leaders were also very aggressive in pushing for a full reopening of Florida’s businesses. We casually indulge in American media, especially television news.

Against this background, the prime minister and the minister of tourism and aviation apparently saw the opportunity to piggyback on the “opening” of Florida and announced the reopening of the tourism sector for July 1, 2020 with the planned welcoming of cruising yachts and private aircraft flights during mid-June.

There was some excitement at the possibilities and even talk of our tourism industry getting back to pre-pandemic levels during the winter season.

Concurrent with training sessions declared to prepare hotel workers and others who could encounter visitors with a COVID-safe regime, there were public service announcements about being prudent to handle this carefully and safely. All well and good.

But there were two major problems:

• The government also decided to permit residents to travel to “foreign” and return home “within 72 hours” not being required to provide a COVID test on returning. Nevermind a requirement for a “negative test”, which was harshly maintained previously for a few months beginning in March.

It seemed as if there was no memory of the four-month-closed border. They even forgot, apparently, that one of their own, Duane Sands, had resigned for reasons which included his decision to facilitate the landing of returning “particular” residents during the lockdown. Besides this, the minister of tourism and aviation permitted Bahamasair – for which the minister has responsibility – to offer “incentives” for brief visits to Florida.

I understand that more than 4,000 citizens took them up on their offer and made visits to Florida for less than 72 hours, so that they did not have to produce a negative COVID result on returning. During their Florida visits, it would have been reasonable to presume that they would do some shopping at malls, go to restaurants and bars and generally interact with Florida residents.

• During the end of May it was noticed, by the Florida media readily available to us, that the state seemed to be experiencing an increase in COVID cases and resultant deaths. By June 1, Florida recorded 667 cases of COVID, a number around which they had been hovering for the previous six weeks; on June 8, a week later, they had 966 cases – a 50 percent increase over the week earlier.

It was being described as going through a second “wave” with large numbers of cases. On June 15, Florida had 1,758 cases, 100 percent greater than the week before. On June 22, there were 2,926 cases — almost a doubling from the week before. Finally, for this argument, on June 28, Florida recorded 8,530 cases, a trebling over the week before (New York Times article), peaking at 14,000 cases per day by the middle of July.

There could be no doubt in the mind of the simplest of persons that Florida was having an awfully bad time. Florida was a COVID hotspot and growing!

Did neither the prime minister nor the minister of tourism and aviation notice what was happening in Florida during June? If they did, how could they be comfortable with inviting people from Florida or, traveling through Florida, to come into the country and, more importantly, how could they allow Bahamasair to offer special fares and arrangements for individuals to travel and return within 72 hours, which is more than the average length of “normal” weekend visits by the population?

Did they not appreciate at all that a population, which had been on lockdown for months, would be eager “to just go somewhere”?

They could have put the brakes on outgoing travel to “foreign” because Florida had become an unsafe place to visit. They would have been harangued for the abrupt cancellation. They have no problem announcing abrupt lockdowns causing the cancellation and loss of gatherings or planned weddings and the like. But, no, they did not do so at the end of June.

A wedding with the potential for enforceable social distancing is “verboten” or forbidden, but a loose weekend in Florida during a June explosion of COVID cases was formally encouraged. Skewed thinking, to say the least.

Yes, those who went to Florida and indulged in activities causing them to catch the virus bear a responsibility for the almost 5,000 percent increase in cases from June to now along with a 1,000 percent increase in deaths!

But how do the prime minister and the minister of tourism and aviation get away with blaming citizens who traveled to Florida while they presume to explain their culpability with simply an “oops, sorry” comment, if that at all? The most sacred responsibility of a government is protection of the safety of the people.

At the very least, both should be fired. 

For what it is worth.

Philip Smith 

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