AT long last, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis spoke up yesterday to explain why he is closing the beaches for the Independence holiday.
We can’t say it was an especially good explanation – but an explanation it was, even if it should have come at the time he was announcing the closure rather than after being called on to give more answers.
He warned of the possibility of mass gatherings on beaches, and the possibility of the healthcare system melting down in the event of a spike in cases of COVID-19. He pointed to three new cases in Grand Bahama and said: “Just because we had not seen any new confirmed cases for a while, it does not mean that COVID has gone away from The Bahamas.”
It is better to prevent the situation from happening than try to cure it afterwards, he said.
Among those unconvinced by Dr Minnis’ explanation were two of his own FNM colleagues.
His former Health Minister, Dr Duane Sands, pointed out that some experts say that the spread of COVID-19 is less likely at beaches than taking part in other activities, including those not restricted here in The Bahamas.
He pointed out the risks of going to the mall, or getting restaurant takeout, or going to a bar – all higher than going to the beach. Other more dangerous activities include working in an office or visiting elderly residents or friends, playing basketball or working out in a gym. It certainly makes no sense that those with enough money can hop on a plane to one of the other islands to go to a gathering on a beach there.
Brent Symonette MP, meanwhile, the former Immigration Minister, questioned the sense in advertising ourselves to the world as a safe environment then telling visitors when they get here that the beaches aren’t safe.
As for the possibility of large gatherings, as Mr Symonette pointed out, why can’t the police take care of that? “Are we saying we cannot police the beaches?” he asked, “Is that what we’re really saying? I hope not.”
Dr Minnis, for his part, called on people “to sacrifice three days for a healthier and better nation… three days to save this nation”.
Shutting the beaches for three days to save the nation but not shutting the airports to flights from COVID-19 hotspots for one day seems an unusual balance.
We get it. We get the need to bring money into the country, to get things going again.
We also get that there isn’t enough testing being done. Dr Sands pointed out we are doing a fraction of the number of tests of our neighbours. The Cayman Islands has done 60 times the number of tests we have, Bermuda has done 20 times the amount, Barbados more than four times the amount, and Turks and Caicos more than three times.
The government’s top advisor, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, last week said there aren’t more tests being done because there is no more community spread of the virus – yet here we are shutting beaches to stop the spread of that same virus.
It is important to tell the Bahamian people the full story. It is important to share the reasoning – and the science – behind the measures being put in place.
It is also important to face up to questions, so that we can get better answers over the amount of testing, why the police can’t enforce distancing on the beaches, why some activities get the green light but others are firmly blocked.
Some of these actions don’t add up. We understand completely the desire to be cautious. Not one of us wants this virus to get another foothold in our country. When Dr Sands and Mr Symonette raise concerns, it is for genuine reasons. We should be doing more testing. We should be able to enforce measures in public. We should be asking what it says to the world when we say our beaches aren’t safe.
We should also be expecting our government to come forward with the reasons for its decisions without having to be pressed into doing so.
We are all on the same side in trying to defeat this virus. Leaving people in the dark only makes them think you are keeping things from them on purpose – and that helps no one in this fight.