By Malcolm Strachan
PRIOR to the Prime Minister’s address last week, as rumours flew around the country about a potential week-long lockdown, Dr Hubert Minnis surprised us all. A shocking but much welcomed course reversal was in order. Following what would have been a 21-day lockdown had the competent authority not had a change of heart, we are now in the process of a phased opening.
While COVID-19 still presents a very real threat, reports that cases are now “levelling” from Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan have given health officials enough comfort to appropriately advise the Prime Minister. With the nation waiting with bated breath for his decision, Dr Minnis was ready to hit the reset button in an attempt to reopen the country for a second time.
This move towards opening was no doubt born out of the realisation that along with his desire to save lives, it was not politically expedient to keep locking the country down. The mental toll may far outlast the physical effects of COVID-19. Also, while our democracy may have its issues, no Bahamian Prime Minister, when bluster and bravado is stripped away, wants to be recorded in the annals of history as a dictator.
Dr Minnis, understanding he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t, volleyed the ball back into the court of the Bahamian people.
Our destinies are now very much in our own hands. And if anyone for a second, believes we won’t be locked down again if things go haywire, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
Dr Minnis said as much during that feared address last week. Reminding the citizenry there is currently no vaccine, he said: “But I must say to you, that if the data points to the need for other restrictions in the future to address community spread, such restrictions will be put in place.”
Not to be skittish about implementing such measures, I’d say it’s safe to say Dr Minnis means business. As far as he is concerned, the lockdowns and curfews have proven to be effective tools in flattening the curve.
While the government still faces huge challenges in relation to maintaining healthcare capacity, the new school year and being ready to accept tourists again in time for high season, much of this responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Bahamian people. We, for the most part, are getting what we asked for. Now, as a population, we will have to consider each other and weather this storm until a vaccine becomes available. Until then, COVID-19 is not going anywhere.
That said, it is absolutely the most sensible decision to figure out how we live with it, rather than in fear of it.
First and foremost, it is imperative that healthcare capacity is increased. We heard reports from the Consultant Physicians Staff Association president, Dr Sabriquet Pinder-Butler, that our main healthcare facilities were maxed out as she called for a zero-tolerance policy for people not wearing masks in public, following the quarantine orders and going out in public knowing they’re COVID positive.
During the Ministry of Health COVID-19 update last Friday, Health Minister Renward Wells spoke to the same.
“With the exponential increase in cases during this second wave, the Ministry of Health continues to execute a comprehensive COVID-19 response strategy to meet the significant demands being placed on the public healthcare system and to ensure the well-being of all Bahamians and residents,” said Mr Wells.
Elaborating further on the ministry’s response strategy and touting the addition of 114 beds into the public healthcare system, Wells said their focus is on “increasing hospital bed capacity, increasing testing capacity in our labs and fast-tracking repairs and upgrades to public health facilities” on New Providence and Grand Bahama. In addition to shoring up capacity, improved data management and sharing has been another positive note that we hope to see continue.
As much as citizens will have to be at our best to defeat this invisible enemy, so will the systems we have in place.
Therefore, the decision by the Prime Minister to make citizens accountable was a good one.
Businesses were under the threat of permanently shutting down. Citizens, particularly those in lesser income communities, were becoming marginalised under the rigorous lockdown measures. Middle and upper-income families were also not impervious to the social and economic challenges presented by COVID-19.
Now, having the outcome we wanted, if we can progress through these phases with cases trending in the right direction, we may be able to return to a sense a normalcy a lot faster.
We will all have to be committed to this cause, however.
Perhaps the best thing that came out of the Prime Minister’s decision to reopen the country is that it forces us to be mature adults about dealing with this virus. We should all be able to recall the stress and fear we experienced during the periods of lockdowns and now follow protocols to protect our families and our nation.
Friends, it is now up to us. Let’s hold each other to account and get through this.