We’ve spent another holiday weekend on lockdown followed by one day to prepare for a two-week nationwide lockdown. It was predictable. Many of us expected it and just wondered when it would come and how much notice we would get. We got a little more than 24 hours. For those who did not predict nor plan for this, the next two weeks may be particularly difficult. The lockdown means no small number of businesses have been forced to close and many of them are not able to pay staff their full salaries. People are back to depending on the National Insurance Board (NIB) for assistance that does not cover their expenses.
It did not just become apparent to the Prime Minister nor his advisers on Monday that there would need to be another lockdown. This was certainly conversations over the period of a few days or, more likely, weeks. The number of reported COVID-19 cases has been quickly increasing since the opening of the borders in July. A lockdown was certainly a consideration from the time this became apparent.
Why then not let the people know they need to plan for a lockdown? Why not provide tools and resources to help people to deal with it? The impact these decisions are having on people are being grossly underestimated. The financial consequences are terrible, but there is more than that. It directly impacts people’s health and wellbeing. Can we afford to buy healthy food items? Can we afford to keep the water and electricity on? Are we able to get to the grocery store without public transportation? Can people work from home and take care of their children?
It seems there is so much focus on COVID-19 itself that other aspects of our health — mental, financial, social — are being completely overlooked. People under stress and in constantly changing circumstances are often unable to think through every step and find the necessary resources. The government could have worked with various agencies, experts and practitioners to develop accessible, comprehensive guides to the process many must now figure out and go through on their own.
We need a document with complete information on financial assistance. It should include details on eligibility for NIB benefits and the payout amounts, eligibility for assistance from Social Services and the types of assistance available, procedures for making payment arrangements and deferrals for utility bills, commitments from commercial banks to facilitate payment arrangements and deferrals, and the process for getting food assistance. It should be made available online, printed in newspapers, and promoted on television and radio to reach as many people as possible.
We need a mental health hub, accessible from the COVID-19 website and the social media pages of the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Health. It needs to be accessible through the existing networks without internet service and made available in print. It should include the Bahamas Psychological Association mental health hotlines (819-7652, 816-3799, 812-0576, and 815-5850), the Bahamas Crisis Centre hotline (328-0922), grounding techniques, breathing exercises, activities appropriate for all ages, relevant media including podcasts and YouTube videos and checklists and quizzes to help people determine what they are feeling, what it means, and what kind of help is available to them.
We need guides to budgeting, meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation. People need to go to grocery stores less, spend less money and still be able to feed themselves. With restaurants completely closed, more people are having to figure this out every day. It would be helpful to have shopping lists — with Nassau and Family Island prices — paired with meal ideas and recipes. Provide options to suit different budgets to make it easier for families to get through these weeks without wasting or running out of food.
The government’s job does not end at implementing measures. It needs to enforce them. It needs to support the people in complying with them. It needs to make sure we can all live through this, and there are very simple ways to do it. Anticipate our needs, develop practical tools - and make them accessible to everyone.
Making tourism work within the confines of this virus
Looking to the weeks and months ahead we need a plan on how to deal with visitors coming into The Bahamas with our borders still open (provided people quarantine on arrival for two weeks).
A few weeks ago Pamela Burnside of Creative Nassau and Doongalik Studios Art Gallery shared a great idea on her Facebook page that she had already offered in June. Given the requirement of mandatory quarantine for all visitors, The Bahamas should offer luxury quarantine experiences. She suggested “reconfiguring resorts into certified health-protected quarantine modules”.
This is a way to make tourism work within the confines dictated by our response to COVID-19. We can get tourists and their US dollars in the country and manage the risk by giving them a great experience in their hotel rooms.
To go further, there could be options at a lower price point, offering family-friendly quarantine experiences. Guests remain in their rooms, but have access to a range of events and activities from their balconies. These could include concerts, plays and games. With the help of technology and by booking rooms according to guests’ interests and proximity to performance space, The Bahamas could be the best place to quarantine.
Some may doubt that this is appealing, but there are many people who feel stuck at home and would like a change of scenery and less household tasks. Three meals per day, air conditioning, cable television, internet and entertainment in a safe environment is all it takes to make a vacation for many. For some guests, this would be their pre-vacation and at the end of the two weeks, upon receipt of a negative test result, they would be able to explore.
We have to think differently. We have to come up with new ideas.
Share your experiences of labour, leisure and luxury
When the beaches were closed on Independence weekend, some people could not understand why it was so upsetting. They argued that we can go to the beach any time, so one holiday doesn’t make a difference. It was clear that some do not understand that there are Bahamians who cannot go to the beach on a weekday or even on a weekend for various reasons. Some people only go to the beach on holidays because it is the only time they have. This raised several questions.
Who truly has time for leisure? Who has access to luxury? Is the beach leisure for some and luxury for others? How much time does labour consume? Does our labour increase our access to luxury? What is the difference between leisure and luxury? How do we understand these concepts? How do we experience them?
I am working with a group of people inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to think and talk more about issues of race and class in The Bahamas. In thinking about the beach fiasco, we came to the conclusion that we move through three cycles of being — labour, leisure and luxury. At times, we are in more than one at a time. Some of us cannot access all three or our versions of them are very different.
We invite the general public to contribute to the conversation about what these states look like, who experiences them, and how we tell the difference between them. Join the conversation by sharing an experience of your own. Submit an image depicting labour, leisure, luxury, or a combination to our digital gallery by posting on Instagram. Use the hashtag #LaborLeisureLuxury, tell your followers why you chose it, and tell them which state(s) it represents or get them to weigh in.
If you don’t have an Instagram account, send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org with a desired caption and let us know whether or not you would like it to be attributed to you. While we have all this time at home, let’s take a look at how we see these three states of being and what it says about freedom and our lives, in paradise, after emancipation