The year 2020 will forever be etched into the minds of both the young and the old. Countries around the world have embraced fighting the coronavirus pandemic, employing all resources to protect their citizens and healthcare systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every Bahamian and island since its inception. Since March, The Bahamas has been part of the global effort to fight this pandemic. From the beginning of this fight, The Bahamas initiated the Emergency Powers Act and enacted curfews. Non-essential businesses were closed, social distancing and the wearing of masks were mandated, public transportation services were halted and our air and sea ports were restricted. These measures initially put in place, resulted in the Tourism industry in The Bahamas coming to a complete standstill.
The stagnation of the tourism industry, which accounts for 60 percemt of The Bahamas Gross Domestic Product has resulted in employees in this sector being furloughed or terminated. The closure of non-essential businesses has also caused many other workers to be laid off due to lost revenues. These layoffs contract the economy and place a strain on government-funded social services and welfare. These initial and proactive health measures proved successful and flattened the epidemiological curve during the 1st wave of the coronavirus pandemic. However, after a phased reopening in the month of June, we now see record-breaking daily case numbers in the double and triple-digits during the month of August.
The general public is now curious as to what went wrong and who is to blame for the enormous spike of cases we see today. The Bahamas opened its borders to commercial travel on July 1st, and has had to since scale back on this policy. Fundamentally, as stated by Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO Deputy Director, that the recent spike of cases in the Bahamas is a result of allowing non-essential travel of citizens where the virus had skyrocketed. The policy was that Bahamian citizens who traveled outside of the country for less than 72 hours, can return without a COVID-19 test performed. This action contributed to the spike of cases we see today.
However, this policy decision which some considered a misstep does not solely rest on Government. The secondary measure, to this policy, was for Bahamians who did travel back to The Bahamas to submit themselves into self-quarantine. If this was done right it would have limited the spread of the virus to those who have been exposed while overseas. The resources in our country are stretched to the limit and it is complicated to monitor some 4,200 individuals as reported who fall under this policy. In countries such as Canada, we see this model of returning travelers allowed to self-quarantine with the responsibility being on the traveler to adhere to the rules, and if these rules are broken it can result in fines and/or jail time.
Our culture, speaks to the mistakes we as a community have made, we are accustomed to going to Sunday dinner, fellowshipping at church, going to hail a friend, and back yard gatherings. These minuscule things might seem harmless, but during this pandemic, it can contribute to the detrimental spread of COVID-19. Bahamians must possess a national responsibility and understand the severity of what we are currently facing.
In the political arena, we have been faced with a challenge where we constantly see “tit for tat” responses by the opposition. We also see a great number of Bahamians rebelling against the measures put in place for our safety. In this period, when our country needs its most senior to work together, we allow political colors to divide us instead of uniting us. Blaming and pointing fingers will not solve our issues, action and proactive measures do.
The Bahamas needs a complete lockdown on islands with a severe resurgence of the virus, we may not like being under lockdown, but it is needed necessary to assist in limiting the spread of COVID-19. It is necessary in the long run simply because of our economic bread and butter; our tourism industry. If we want tourism to rebound before the end of the year. The virus must be suppressed, to market the islands The Bahamas as a COVID-FREE OR LOW-RISK Destination.
During a full lockdown, the government must ensure the most vulnerable are protected with food and medical supplies. Our number one industry which propels our economy cannot coexist with COVID-19 unless we limit the spread of the virus. Around the world and even in our CARICOM and Latin America region, countries had to scale back on their full economy reopening due to spikes in COIVD-19 cases. After some stringent lockdown measures, The Bahamas should seek to conduct another phased reopening of our economy with more virus suppressant measures in place. We must learn to co-exist safely because our economic livelihood depends on it.
In the next two to three years, the Government and people of The Bahamas should use this pandemic as a learning experience. As a nation we should look at business ideas and models that move the dependency of our economy on tourism into more diverse and stable industries. \
However, in this process, we must not neglect tourism, as it is still a viable component for our economic growth. As Bahamians we are resilient people, this pandemic shall pass, but when it will is in the hands of the people to adhere to the policies and guidelines to keep us safe. There is no right or wrong answer to fight COVID-19, what works in some countries may not work in ours, we must be our brother’s keeper to fight COVID-19.
Basil Q. Carter Jr.