THE reopening of our borders might be taken by some to show we’re getting back to normal – but as the comments from Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar show, we’re a long way from that.
He told Tribune Business that he expects the COVID-19 pandemic to affect us “for the next 12-24 months”. We’ll be honest, we think that’s optimistic.
The problem isn’t just the virus – although that is more than problem enough, having killed more than 518,000 people worldwide as we write this article. Rather, the longer-term effects are the economic ones and the time it will take to rebound from that financial blow.
Think of the businesses such as Luciano’s that are closing their doors never to reopen, and the livelihoods that go with that, from the owner to the workers to the suppliers.
Listen to the voices of those at the sharp end, left without a job, such as the Baha Mar employee who says in today’s Tribune: “I don’t know who is going to be left when they have finished this exercise.”
She talks of having “to go home without the slightest knowledge of where money will come from after I’ve spent my severance” and feeling anguish in her heart.
Think too that this is a new layoff, adding to the long list of those who have already lost their jobs because of this virus. The effects are deep in the Bahamian economy, and wounds that deep do not heal quickly.
Worse, we may be reopening but the virus has far from gone away. There remains no vaccine for the virus yet, and the country where most of our tourists come from is the country seemingly struggling most with a surge in cases.
Alongside that, cruise ships have not returned yet, and we know how popular a destination The Bahamas is for such ships and visitors.
Mr D’Aguilar also pointed out the disincentive for tourists – in Canada, for example, people returning from abroad face a 14-day quarantine. How many people are going to book a holiday knowing they are going to have to quarantine for two weeks afterwards? How many will have employers understanding enough to keep paying them in quarantine after a leisure trip abroad?
In the midst of this, PLP leader Philip ‘Brave’ Davis has correctly criticised the government over three things – letting hospital interns go at the end of their internship when during a pandemic every pair of hands is needed, the amount of testing in the country not being high enough and, crucially, the failures in communication by the government.
He points out the lack of press conferences by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, which have largely dried up since he accepted the resignation of Health Minister Dr Duane Sands. Mr Davis puts that down to the PM not wanting to answer questions – and it’s hard to disagree with that point considering the only time Dr Minnis has been asked questions in a press conference setting since, he has batted away questions about Dr Sands.
At a time when the economy is in such dire straits and the threat of a resurgence of the pandemic is on our minds, communication is vital. Even moreso when the government is using emergency powers and asking the Bahamian people to trust them with the use of those powers.
We have a long way to go to get back to normal. Until that vaccine is widely available, we cannot truly begin to see our way past this global crisis. It’s time to plan for the worst and hope for the best – but a lot rides on that word hope, for all of us.