With jobs drying up, many wonder how long they can hold on 

The National Insurance Board (NIB) on Baillou Hill Road maintained a steady stream of clients coming and going yesterday, some of whom are newly unemployed as businesses and major hotels have closed due to the impact of COVID-19.

One such individual, Reynolds Ferguson, lamented the “domino effect” created by the virus not just in the country, but on a global scale.

“I am worried,” Ferguson told The Nassau Guardian.

“I’ve seen the effects. I’ve had a small business in the tourism industry and I’ve been in tourism for a very long time, for over 20 something years, and I’ve felt the effects of the Gulf War and many other wars and this has really been the worst experience ever because now the hotels are shut down; no tourists are coming into the country; taxi drivers are out of a job.

“It has a real domino effect, which could be detrimental to the economy of The Bahamas if we are still not prepared to deal with this.”

Ferguson, who noted that he keeps up with local and international news on coronavirus developments, said not having tourists come into the country “has put a slump on many other businesses that I do business with, so it’s a domino effect all around”.

“I came for unemployment assistance,” Ferguson said, “because everything is shut down…the hotel I’m doing business with now is shut down because there are no guests, and they’re going to be shut down indefinitely so it puts me on the spot.

“It’s a matter of survival now. It’s either you do or you die. You’re forced to stand on the unemployment line. You’re forced to be dependent on the government or on whatever solution the world, not even the government, the world is coming up with because everyone is impacted…”

For Delrosa Hepburn, the recent closures of major hotels has just made a difficult situation all the more challenging.

Hepburn has been unemployed since September, after losing her job at Great Abaco Beach hotel due to the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian.

She claimed she was only just receiving her first unemployment check since applying in September, but that she hopes those who recently lost their jobs are able to get assistance much faster.

“They might get out quicker than me. I hope so because I know they have children,” Hepburn said.

“My children are adults now, so I don’t have to worry about looking for pampers and things like that, no.

“But my next sister, we live in one apartment. Me, my sister, my daughter and my mummy. My mummy [is] in a wheelchair; she lives on pension. My next sister, she ain’t working, and I ain’t working.

“My only daughter working, but now their place closed.”

Hepburn’s daughter, a hotel worker, opted to take vacation during this time so Hepburn said at least there will still be a little income.

But once the vacation time is up, if the hotel is still closed she said she does not know what they will do.

“Social services [got] us an apartment for three months, and after that we have to [pay] the rent on our own,” Hepburn said.

However, she noted: “Three months done up, so we used to try to scrap here and there to pay the rent, because we’re trying to get back home.

“But this virus caused it to slow down now.”

Another hotel worker, who wished only to be identified as Mrs. Williams, was picking up a check for maternity leave.

She said she was due to return to work next week, but as her employer – RIU hotel on Paradise Island – has now closed, she’s not sure what will come next.

“We just have to wait it out,” Williams told The Guardian as her husband waited nearby holding their newborn.

Despite the flow of clients, from senior citizens to disabled persons in wheelchairs and parents with children in strollers, NIB was a scene of organization.

Workers dressed in Androsia directed incoming and outgoing customers, and kept steady control on how many people were permitted inside at a time.

There were also clear markers for where the few customers who had to wait outside could do so while maintaining social distance, in accordance with the emergency measures ordered by the prime minister in an attempt to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Attorney General Carl Bethel has suggested the 24-hour curfew that started on Tuesday could be extended until the end of April.

But while Ferguson said he agrees with the necessity of the emergency lockdown measures in place, he said he doesn’t believe many people can handle another month without pay.

“I feel it is necessary for the lockdown, absolutely, because [COVID-19] is detrimental to society; it’s detrimental to the world, and if we don’t take the measures that we’re forced to take, we could face extinction,” he said. 

However, he added: “If you’re going to extend it, you have got to have a plan.

“People are going to run out of food; people are going to run out of water; people are going to run out of any kind of supplies that they have in their house.

“No one can live in this country without money for 30 more days. Especially if you don’t have a job.

“So if [the government] decides to do that, then [it] has got to have a financial plan, how [it’s] going to sustain that decision, because every decision comes with a consequence.

“[It] may be in the best interest of humanity, but humanity must also survive. Humanity must eat and drink during this period…

“Yes, we understand the lockdown, but we’re not going to die from the coronavirus; we’re going to die from starvation. So we have got to be very careful how we deal with this lockdown.”

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