By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Exuma’s Chamber of Commerce chief has warned it will be “devastating” for business and consumer confidence if the border re-opening brings COVID-19 to the island.
Pedro Rolle told Tribune Business in a recent interview that many residents remained nervous about the island’s virus-free status being compromised by visitors even though they recognised the need to re-open the economy and prevent its collapse.
He added that Exuma had yet to feel the full impact from the July 1 easing of border restrictions, with several hotels reporting that they were receiving bookings but only from the middle of this month onwards.
“Slowly we’re getting back to a sense of opening up,” Mr Rolle said, “but I don’t think we’re seeing the full impact of it yet. Confidence is a huge part of business, and just the act of deciding to open does nothing for the level of confidence.
“There are a number of persons concerned about adherence to the health protocols even though we’re open. We’re going to notice a number of people not going out to the Fish Fry and restaurants. That process is going to be slow and I’m not sure how long it will take.
“If the opening up of Exuma brings any cases here, if that happens, it’s going to be kind of devastating for people’s confidence. This is uncharted territory. The Government can go ahead and make deliberations, but how people feel about certain things will be the driving force behind how quickly, and to the extent, the economy rebounds.
“If the protocols are in place at the ports of entry, and are being followed carefully, people will feel better about it but I’m not so sure at this point that they’re feeling that way.”
Mr Rolle said Exuma residents, along with all Bahamians, were closely following the surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida and other key tourism source markets via US TV stations.
With the US reporting more than 3m infections, and some 50,000-plus new cases per day, Mr Rolle said persons were becoming increasingly uneasy about the prospect of COVID-19 escaping The Bahamas’ border checks, which he said was “going to put a dampener on people wanting to go out and do business”.
The Exuma Chamber chief said the island would gain “a greater degree of confidence” if the Government provided more information on the readiness of Exuma’s healthcare facilities to cope with COVID-19 infections and the measures to deal with this.
Arguing that the Government’s healthcare briefings have been Nassau-centric in their focus, Mr Rolle added: “What are the protocols in place if someone gets it here? What happens?”
He queried whether COVID-19 patients could be treated in Exuma or if they would have to be ferried to Nassau, with any back and forth unlikely to aid confidence levels on the island.
“It’s one thing to be in Nassau and get it; it’s another thing to be on the Family Islands and get it,” Mr Rolle said. “When these announcements are made from the pulpit in Nassau, none of these things are given from the Family Island perspective.
“Come and have some kind of public engagement. Share it with us, let us know. We shouldn’t be so ignorant given that, should there be a second wave of infections, what do we do if those things happen?”