By Malcolm Strachan
LAST week’s confusion over the landing of 135 workers from Mexico brought in to help restore the hurricane-ravaged Bakers Bay led to quite a stir. Perhaps the biggest concern should have been the rising threat COVID-19 is becoming in Mexico.
Certainly, though, we should all be concerned about jobs that Bahamians can fill being outsourced to foreign workers. The clichéd messaging that Bahamians are lazy and unskilled and our expert counterparts are not up to the job, too often ends there without one administration after another doing anything about it. Surely, by now, Bahamians should have acquired the skills after myriad agreements between successive governments and foreign investors.
Nevertheless, while this is definitely an important discussion to be had, we are still in the middle of a deadly global pandemic, and the confusion we saw during a Ministry of Health press conference was alarming.
Thankfully, all has been resolved and we’ve learned these Mexican workers did, in fact, take COVID-19 tests and all came back negative. However, the optics from the lack of coordination between the ministries of health, labour and immigration was concerning.
Mexico’s coronavirus cases just surpassed France as the country with the fifth highest total in the world, topping the 30,000 mark this past week. The confusion from the two top medical experts leading our efforts against COVID-19 should not instil confidence with the questionable decision to remain open to travel from the US looming over our heads.
Of course, we won’t find many who would agree to the government closing our borders to all inbound travel from the US. However, to not even consider restricting travel from hotspots buckling under pressure and going through shutdowns is worrying. Florida, partially shutting down having just recorded more than 11,500 coronavirus cases in one day on the Fourth of July, is still reluctant to pull the trigger on reining in its citizens. Florida’s governor is particularly headstrong despite a 13.3 percent increase from its previous single-day record just two days prior.
As Floridians have already begun visiting the country, we must ask ourselves if the steps we have in place are enough to keep COVID-19 out of the country.
With the current policies accepting visitors who can produce a negative COVID-19 test that is at least ten days old, we’re allowing an entire week’s window for someone to contract the virus before coming to The Bahamas. Moreover, an extremely dangerous oversight is exempting Bahamians who take leisure trips not spanning 72 hours to re-enter the country without a negative COVID-19 test.
The message is clear. As citizens, we do not know where the government stands on the protection of our country against the coronavirus. We can’t possibly know, as the decisions being made bring too much into question.
Meanwhile, Bahamians have been subjected to months of lockdowns and curfews under a state of emergency, but somehow the government is either underestimating or ignoring the true danger – potentially allowing a deadly virus to waltz into the country by making it as easy as possible for visitors to come here.
While many are seeking to downplay the effects of this virus – pointing to its mortality rate in comparison with other deadly epidemics of our time, our proliferation of non-communicable diseases and lack of healthcare capacity should place a footnote next to such declarations.
In short, this is the point in the card game where we realise we’re playing with a losing hand and remove ourselves from the table. Unfortunately, our dependence on tourism has placed a gun to our heads and leaving the game is out of the question.
The only thing we can realistically do is to seriously reevaluate our priorities because as it stands, our thinking seems half-done, and the notion of ensuring the safety of Bahamians has somehow been lost in all of this.
For a moment, let’s just consider the scenario of travelling into the country with a pet as an example. For those of you who are unfamiliar, please indulge me, as this should make perfect sense to anyone who has done this process before.
The government currently imposes stricter guidelines around bringing an animal into the country than they do a Bahamian travelling abroad and returning within 72 hours during a pandemic. For your pet, you would be required to produce a health certificate authorised by a licenced veterinarian after examining your pet within a 48-hour period before your arrival. Conversely, there may very well be citizens returning to the country today after a Fourth of July weekend of fun and frolicking.
Indeed, the logic is way off on this one.
Still, it is my hope that after we potentially dodged a bullet last week that the government goes to the drawing board and simulate a multitude of scenarios to ensure its citizens will be kept safe. Otherwise, Bahamians ought to have a hard time being confident that our best interest is in the fore of the directorate’s minds.