IT’S crunch time for Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis when he gives his national address on Sunday.
This is perhaps the moment of his biggest responsibility since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are escalating numbers of cases since the border opened back up. He has been without a Minister of Health since May, having to take on the role himself. And now his special advisor, Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, is stepping back from her day-to-day role as task force co-ordinator, with Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan taking the helm.
The word is that Dr Minnis will appoint a new Minister of Health on Sunday. It’s an appointment he has to get right.
For weeks, while medics have done their best in presenting the data of the pandemic, press conferences have lacked a political presence that could speak as to what actions would be taken based on that data. Dr Minnis has avoided taking questions – so it has been hard to have full transparency on the reasons behind our actions in dealing with this crisis.
The choice as Health Minister will be crucial, with the public in need of someone who can speak authoritatively on the subject, and who they can trust to tell them the full story.
Meanwhile, the new COVID-19 cases include three people from Grand Bahama and two from New Providence. The three from Grand Bahama have no history of travel – but the two from New Providence do.
Dr Dahl-Regis, in the previous press conference, suggested that the concern at present is over Bahamians catching the virus in hotspots overseas and bringing it back home.
As we continue to see more cases involving people who have travelled, that issue needs to be addressed.
How it should be addressed is by listening to the experts. Dr Dahl-Regis herself said she wished she could suggest to Bahamians that they shouldn’t travel, but she can’t. The time might have come to put a temporary halt on travel to and from Florida, which has become the new epicentre of the pandemic. The state has now had more than 315,000 cases – by the time the Prime Minister speaks on Sunday the total number of cases there might be close to the size of the entire population of The Bahamas.
So we stand at a crucial moment. A crucial moment for decisions on how to go forward while fighting the virus as best we can. A crucial moment to ensure clear communication to the people of The Bahamas about how and why we are making those decisions.
Prime Minister, we await your address with keen interest.
For a long time, talk of oil drilling has lurked in the background in Bahamian life, with the Bahamas Petroleum Company slowly making its way through the licence process towards making a test drill.
There has been significant concern over the prospect – after all, it is only ten years ago that the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, pumping oil into the sea for 87 days before it could be capped, and leading to incredible devastation of the environment and wildlife.
A new group of Bahamian citizens has called upon the government to cancel all existing licences for the project before such damage can be done. One thing is for certain, The Bahamas needs to make a firm decision one way or the other whether it is to proceed with oil or not.
One thing should certainly give the government pause – and that thing is the pandemic affecting us right now.
We have seen what effect a loss of tourism has had on our economy. If our clear seas were to be tainted in an environmental disaster, no one would want to swim in oily waters, or lie on blackened beaches.
We must ask ourselves if we are willing to risk what we already have.