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'Don't Kill The Fly With The Sledgehammer'

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Robert Myers

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Ben Albury

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian businessmen yesterday warned that the two-week national lockdown could be “more devastating than COVID-19 itself”, and urged: “Don’t use a sledgehammer to kill a fly.”

Ben Albury, Bahamas Bus and Truck’s general manager, told Tribune Business that the prime minister and the government needed “to get more creative” in balancing commerce and efforts to stamp out so-called virus “hot spots”.

Arguing that the private sector and employees had been given too little notice by Dr Hubert Minnis of the lockdown, which begins today, Mr Albury argued that the government had to keep some industries and sectors moving “or else we’re going to starve”.

“Just like every other industry it’s going to be devastating,” he told this newspaper of the latest restrictions. “The prime minister just said in the House of Assembly that we cannot keep locking down, opening up, locking down and opening up.

“Then Dionisio D’Aguilar gave everyone a false hope last week by saying they weren’t thinking of a two-week lockdown, and then days later.... There’s just too much inconsistency and too much instability for employers and employees alike. To impose a two-week lockdown with 24 hours’ notice, it doesn’t give people time to pivot and prepare. Everywhere is being overrun.”

Dr Minnis, in his national address on Sunday night, unveiled a two-week national lockdown with restrictions even more severe than the initial version implemented in late March/early April as the Government desperately bids to choke-off the surge in COVID-19 cases.

With 36 fresh infections unveiled yesterday, taking the number of active cases to 608, the Prime Minister argued he was left with little choice but to act “aggressively” to protect lives, exhausted healthcare workers and an overburdened public health system where more than 50 percent of its COVID-19 beds are now occupied.

However, Mr Albury and others now fear the cure is becoming worse than the problem, with the latest lockdown likely to force more business closures, create a longer unemployment line and further delay any prospect of an economic recovery. They argue that, with no vaccine in sight, The Bahamas must develop better methods for mitigating the risk presented by COVID-19 other than lockdowns.

“It’s just that the economy cannot continue to bear this,” the Bahamas Bus and Truck general manager told Tribune Business. “I understand the hospitals are overwhelmed, but they should have been better prepared for this. We all understand that the 72-hour window for Bahamians to travel abroad and come back without testing was a critical mistake.

“The Prime Minister has got to figure out how to get certain things moving or else we’re going to starve. During the first lockdown we continued to pay our staff and did not furlough anyone, and today I instructed the payroll department to pay staff for the next two weeks, but how long can businesses bear the brunt of it?

“I’ve had business people calling me from last night [Sunday] saying they’re giving serious consideration to closing their business. Some already have. I had four to five friends call me between last night and today. Many assisted their staff in the first lockdown and kept them on. This time they’re not able to do that. It’s just unsustainable, trying to be a good corporate citizen,” Mr Albury continued.

“How far can this go? I believe there are more surprises ahead. What happens a month after we re-open and cases go up again? This virus is not going anywhere. There’s no vaccine on the horizon. I think he [Dr Minnis] just needs to get more creative.”

Pointing to evidence from the National Food Distribution Task Force that one in four Bahamians, or 25 percent of the population, is receiving food assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Albury said increases in drug and alcohol abuse, child and sexual abuse, were among the likely consequences of the Government’s renewed lockdowns.

“Poverty has been shown to reduce a life by 10 years,” he added. “I think the effects of this lockdown will be more devastating than the virus. Ninety percent of people get it and don’t know they have it. He [Dr Minnis] makes knee jerk reactions, depending on lockdowns to solve the problem.

“The Prime Minister and Cabinet are still collecting pay cheques every month but there are thousands of Bahamians who aren’t that lucky. If something is not done soon crime will be out of control. I’m already nervous getting out of the car at home and work because there are a lot of desperate people out there. I’m scared what Christmas is going to look like.”

Mr Albury also pointed to an interview given by Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) pandemic response, where she said ‘localised’ measures should be used to stem Covid-19 - rather than national lockdowns - due to the health, social and economic repercussions.

All non-essential businesses and services, including those that are retail and office-based, have been ordered to close again with effect from today. However, Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, yesterday renewed his concerns over why COVID-19 free islands such as Andros and Eleuthera were being required to halt commerce and lockdown.

“This could go on for a long time,” he warned. “Are we going to shut down The Bahamas every time or are we going to come up with an alternative; a more strategic alternative that targets the areas most affected.

“It’s not just the private sector, it’s also the Government itself. Every time you restrict commerce and people’s movement you also impact the country’s income because all those taxes are related to all those things that don’t occur. It hurts both the Government and GDP, families and businesses. Everybody.

“That’s a real killer on top of the hurricane, and now another hurricane, and another hurricane season. I just don’t know where we’re going if we cannot be more creative in our approach, living with this virus and hurricanes.”

Mr Myers called on the Government to adopt a similar strategy to COVID-19 as it did with hurricanes, where the only islands required to batten down were those in the storm’s forecast path. “We’ve got to be more strategic. That’s just my suggestion,” he added. “I don’t have the information he [the Prime Minister] and the Government have, so I may be making a completely naive statement,” he added.

“But my observation is: Don’t kill a fly with a sledgehammer because you destroy the whole house. Every time you whack the economy back it takes longer, and is slower, to recover. Every time you knock it many more people become unemployed and many more businesses are forced to close.

“I get it. I understand the fear. We all live with a definite degree of risk, and we cannot eliminate that risk. Everyone out there understands the risk of COVID-19, some more than others, but we have to take a strategic approach. We may be saving life, but are destroying livelihoods. The destruction of livelihoods has grave long-term implications.”

Comments

Honestman 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Whilst I can appreciate the business community's anxiety over this latest lock down we simply have to get this virus back under control otherwise many people are going to die before their time. Allowing every business to stay open is not going to achieve that. This lock down was preventable had government got its strategy right but it messed up and now we really have no option but to lock down again. The immediate priority must be protecting the health of our citizens and particularly those on the front line.

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tribanon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Our country simply doesn't have the foreign currency reserves necessary to allow local businesses to replenish their inventories by purchases from abroad. By shutting down all of these local businesses, and keeping their local customers locked down in their homes, the government alleviates the business demand for hard foreign currency to buy goods from abroad to sell to local customers; in Ben Albury's case automobiles.

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TalRussell 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Comrade Car salesman's Ben, even if the colony had the good fortune of having a competent central authority in place - whilst it would go a long way to lighten the load, but even then we are still looking at a minimum of a fifty percent casualty rate current businesses who will not financially make it safely passed the global sledgehammer over to the other side of the COVID-19, and we are talking about that other side being 5 to 10 years away.
Leaving the incompetents in charge and the colony's entire survival is placed at a much greater risk of losing dominion over its Sovereignty. Nod Once for Yeah, Twice for No?

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alfalfa 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The lock down in Grand Bahama did not achieve anything. The number of cases increased and what will happen this Friday when the lockdown expires? Locking down the country will not resolve anything. Cases may go down in some areas but to keep it that way we will have to be locked down until a vaccine is available. This country will not survive continuous lockdowns, which do nothing to cure the virus or change the attitudes of those who disobey safety rules. The police need to arrest people. Otherwise the parties, no masks, and close physical contact will continue. Though I am not an expert, I am finding it hard to find other countries who are in complete lockdown like us. How us it that they are managing both a business environment and trying to control the virus while our solution is lockdown?

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The spread doesn't just end with lockdowns, it reduces gradually, give it time. It is necessary and it does work, and work means lives are saved. The planet recovered after the pandemic in 1918 and they had a world war at the same time. Read about it for yourself.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 3 weeks ago

exactly. had same conversation yesterday. It took 3 months for 100 cases to fizzle out...How long will it take for 500 to do the same?

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WETHEPEOPLE 2 months, 3 weeks ago

The current administration has no long term plan on how to deal with this situation. And that is made even clearer by having to reevaluate the situation in the mext two weeks. The governments needs to be progressive and creative in order to balance the pandemic along with the economy and mentaly stability of its citizens. I assure you these lockdowns and restrictions are causing this country more harm than covid can. And if we are all in this together shouldnt my mental well being be a concern as well.

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proudloudandfnm 2 months, 3 weeks ago

We do need this lockdown, if we cooperate with all safety measures and stay in the spread will slow. Once its manageable we can reopen. Not our borders obviously so we'll still be in deep economic problems. What we all need to do is think on how we survive with little to no tourism for a prolonged time.... Think car sales bad now?

People need to wake up, this aint no damned flu. This is a health sh-t storm that affects breathing and our immune system and from what I've read from people that have recovered its pure torture for weeks...

Our hospitals have no more ICU beds. What happens if you have a heart attack now? Or a severe car accident?

There is no winning scenario in this without treatment, cure and vaccine. And we have neither...

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WETHEPEOPLE 2 months, 3 weeks ago

All this lockdown will do is help strangle the already dieing economy. And your implying we need something when we dont even know where the goal post is. While the lockdown may help to subside the number of cases, its in no way shape or form a long term sollution. In terms of treatment, people are being treated as we speak, a vaccine is nowhere in the pipelines for the Bahamas any time soon. Even when it is developed we gone be to broke to buy it. So if your saying just continue locking down the country until we get a.vaccine, thats simply not going to work

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Amused 2 months, 3 weeks ago

And to add to that I'm sure nib assistance will run out. Furthermore the government sees no need to cut salaries or whatever to save money it obviously won't be getting anything soon

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thephoenix562 2 months, 3 weeks ago

People dying left right and center and he worried about car sales.Well muddoes

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