The country must thread the needle on COVID-19 management and economic recovery as the lives and livelihoods of Bahamians of all ages hang in the balance. — THE READ

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — If Independence morning is like a baby bornin’, then New Year’s Day is its christening. It is the visceral spirit of renewal, rededication and rebirth that imbues a sense of promise and hope. But, for the last two years, the absence of the annual holiday Junkanoo parades has left many Bahamians feeling adrift in the cyclical highs and lows of a never-ending pandemic.

Without this cultural marker stoking the fires of the national spirit to a crescendo with back-to-back revelry of our collective trials and triumphs, how do we signify the end of 2021? With COVID-19 infections surging in a fourth wave, how do we engender hope for 2022?

And so anticipation was markedly high for the virtual Junkanoo presentation that promised to bottle lightning and then broadcast it to a Bahamian collective all but depleted by economic and social hardship.

Instead, it delivered a black eye, with COVID-19 severely disrupting production and exposing all stakeholders to the ire of a frustrated and unforgiving public so caustic the video was taken down.

In the collaboration with the Junkanoo Corporation of New Providence (JCNP) and JCN Network, the government paid $126,000 to Junkanoo groups: $11,000 to seven Category A groups and $7,000 to 7 Category B groups; and spent $24,000 on production and $200 on audio advertising.

The disastrous virtual presentation feels like another nail in an already twice-patched tire as the country soldiers on towards a common loftier goal, but, if it could be believed, it was still a blessing to the Junkanoo community.

JCNP Chairman Dion Miller said: ”You can never replace the actual thing — the sense and the feeling you get on Bay Street with the fans in the stands and the whole process of preparing for a parade. A virtual experience will never suffice or replace the feeling of the traditional Bay Street feel.

“The experience with the virtual Junkanoo was not all bad.

“It’s unfortunate that the poor quality of the production takes away from the experience that the Junkanooers experienced at the venue on those nights of the recording. I think that’s very clear for the public to understand.”

Miller added: “It put a whole black eye [on] something that was intended to be positive [and] it really showed Junkanoo in a negative light.

“The groups busted their hips off the past three weeks to try put something for the Bahamian people to celebrate their culture and, unfortunately, the production aspect of it was not sufficient.

“Junkanoo needs to return to Bay Street, to get back to what we need to do.”

To be sure, there is a global yearning to “get back” that is driving discourse around how we will break free from this pandemic — living with COVID-19, and with emphasis on living.

On the education front, we are asking: How will we get back the hundreds of children lost in the gap?

On the social front, we are asking: How will we support the hundreds of unemployed and food-insecure?

On the economic front, how will we increase revenue and engender stable growth?

On the crime front, how will we reduce gun and gang violence and root out abuse to create safer communities?

On the political front, how will we increase democratic participation to develop more sophisticated and representational systems of governance?

Minister of Health Dr Michael Darville told the media yesterday that the positivity rate of testing was significantly higher than anticipated.

Darville was asked whether officials expect an additional surge in cases due to the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“We anticipate during the holiday weekend there were some gatherings we were concerned about and that they could potentially be superspreaders,” he said.

“We are watching the amount of cases and we have been doing an excessive amount of testing.

“What is concerning us is the percentage of testing is proving to be higher than we anticipate, which is an indication that the disease burden is relatively high in the country, and we are preparing ourselves to ensure [that] we have adequate healthcare protocols in place.”

Health officials recorded 315 cases on Monday, taking the number of cases in the country to 26,326, with 3,507 still active and some 1,850 new infections recorded in the last five days.

Even more troubling is the virus’ spread among healthcare workers, with 130 staff out of the system due to COVID-19 exposure.

And while data emerging on the omicron variant believed to be ripping through the country suggests the variant is significantly milder, hospitalizations in The Bahamas have also been creeping up at a much slower but still concerning rate.

Hospitalizations in the last week have more than tripled — from 17 on December 27 to 58 on Monday.

Last August, surging third-wave infections pushed the healthcare system to the brink of collapse.

Yesterday, Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) President Amancha Williams underscored the institution was yet again staring down a “breaking point”.

“Of course we’re headed to a breaking point and we need to be in a mode where we’re able to accommodate the overflow,” Williams told Eyewitness News.

“We need to be prepared like today, to be ready to have these patients placed in the various places and we have the nurses there to facilitate the needs of the patients.

“We’re seeing the rising of the cases and we have a combination of medical concerns that are coming in the A&E and COVID.

“So, when we have up to 24 admissions and 34 admissions and we need bed space, our challenge is bed space infrastructure and staffing and we need to think very fast.”

The country must thread the needle on COVID-19 management and economic recovery as the lives and livelihoods of Bahamians of all ages hang in the balance.

We must not let the year slip by with our eyes fixed solely on our case count.

We must find the balance.

About Ava Turnquest

Ava Turnquest is the head of the Digital Department at Eyewitness News. Her most notable beat coverage spans but is not limited to politics, immigration and human rights, with a focus especially on minority groups. In 2018, she was nominated by the Bahamas Press Club for “The Eric Wilmott Award for Investigative Journalism”. Ava is deeply motivated by her passion about the role of fourth estate, and uses her pen to inform, educate and sensitize the public.