WE said it was crunch time for Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis ahead of his national address yesterday – and the stakes only got higher as the country set a new single-day record for COVID-19 cases.
It was a time for tough decisions, and whether you agree with the choice he made or not, it was certainly a bold moment in closing down commercial travel to and from the United States once more.
It’s a difficult decision indeed, because Dr Minnis knows what it means to the economy, but with Atlantis delaying its reopening indefinitely too, both government and private businesses are looking at the tourist market from the US and realising the danger it represents right now, with COVID-19 still surging there. Yesterday alone, Florida had 12,478 new cases, taking the state total alone to more than 350,000, nearly as much as the total population of The Bahamas.
In this column, we had argued previously that the government ought not to be afraid of saying no to the US if cases were at such a level that they presented a risk to our nation’s health.
The soaring number of cases there – and the increase in cases here since people started to come back in from the US – shows the level of risk we face.
Grand Bahama, which had gone for such a long time without new cases, has seen 30 new cases in the past two weeks. A series of new clampdowns there take effect today, and a medical team has been despatched to monitor the situation more closely.
So is Dr Minnis doing the right thing? Largely, we would say yes. No one wants to roll back the hard-earned freedoms we have rediscovered as our number of cases has reduced, but here’s the most important thing – we know these measures worked before, we know they can work again.
We might quibble over whether closing the beaches again is necessary, because if people want to gather together they can go and do that in restaurants instead in a more enclosed environment.
We might wonder whether the newly instituted COVID-19 enforcement unit of the police force could not keep people from large gatherings and allow those who respect social distancing to act a little more freely.
We might, in the other direction, wonder whether private flights from the US should also be stopped in addition to commercial flights.
But we know that we need to stop this virus again, and we need to do so now. Closing things down again in response to a clear surge – and that’s what we’re seeing – is understandable.
We might wish for the opportunity to ask more questions of the Prime Minister in those moments – but that’s a weight that will fall on his newly minted Minister of Health. Renward Wells MP is an engineer, not a man with a medical background, but he is Dr Minnis’ choice to lead the Ministry of Health as the full-time successor to Dr Duane Sands.
It is a big task, and a big moment, and we shall see if Mr Wells is able to rise to the occasion.
We do hope he takes a leaf out of Dr Sands’ book in being present at briefings, and willing to answer questions about why the government is taking particular actions. It helps Bahamians immensely to be able to understand the process, and know that their concerns can be aired by reporters in order to gain an official response.
Simply put, the government has asked Bahamians to forego some of their liberty for a while to combat the disease, and it is only proper that they present a public face to reassure and explain.
It’s a big decision to close the doors again to the US. Already, as we write this column, people on social media in the US are carrying the news on The Bahamas and condemning the US president that it would come to this.
We would say only this – that we wish the very best for our neighbour and that we hope that it can wrestle the pandemic affecting it into submission. America is often held up as the greatest nation in the world, and it has the power to rise to this challenge.
We look forward to seeing our friends and our visitors as soon as possible. There is only one unwelcome guest to our shores – the coronavirus itself.