By Malcolm Strachan
WITHIN the past few months, the country has lost two of the most respected medical minds from the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. First, former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands, and most recently Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis – both stepping down at a time when The Bahamas could most use their contributions. Since Dr Sands’ departure, the controversial decisions to not ramp up our testing capacity and seemingly abandon what science and plain common sense would have been telling us prior to relaxing travel restrictions has led to a surge in coronavirus cases. Prime Minister Dr Minnis yesterday prepared the nation for the long haul in this battle, saying this is a marathon, not a sprint.
With the country just experiencing its highest single-day case count - 15 infected with COVID-19 yesterday – Dr Minnis chose his man to lead the health ministry in our hour of need: Renward Wells. However, Mr Wells is an engineer, not a doctor, and with the populace accustomed to a medical professional serving in this capacity, some adjustments will have to be made.
More important than the personality, though, is the policies that will need to be implemented going forward.
We discussed here how detrimental it would be for the safety of the Bahamian people if we only focused on reopening without a sober discussion on stringent measures that would have prevented the coronavirus from entering the country. Bahamians being able to return home without any form of screening after international trips of less than 72 hours and the allowance for foreigners to visit our country with a nearly two-week old coronavirus tests have been crucial missteps. To boot, our porous defences against fraudulent tests have put us all in a vulnerable place as we will not know the extent to which we have been exposed, at least for the next few weeks.
The thinking behind allowing citizens to travel abroad and return home without a COVID-19 test seemed like a game of Russian roulette from the time it was first shared publicly.
Now, as they say, the chickens have come home to roost.
In a response to that, the government have closed the gates on the United States once more, announcing an end to commercial flights and sea traffic from Wednesday.
We know very well, if a Bahamian travels anywhere for less than 72 hours, we all can make an educated guess where their destination would have been. With Florida’s cases looking more and more like the Big Board on a good day at the New York Stock Exchange, a closure of the borders once more to travel to and from the US is a major step, but one that will curb those 72-hour getaways.
The renewed clampdown in Grand Bahama certainly shows the government is ready to respond whenever there are spikes in cases – but questions remain, chiefly why aren’t we doing more testing? Are we hoarding the tests for the apocalypse?
When we couple the lack of testing with the overly relaxed measures for travel going out and coming into the country we have seen previously, we have created quite the quagmire for ourselves. We can only hope Dr Minnis’ choice of Renward Wells as Minister of Health puts someone in the post able to execute at a high level.
The country, now more than ever, needs a high performer – someone who has a heart for people, can think on their feet, make smart decisions, and is an effective communicator.
Dr Minnis called Mr Wells a “doer” – well, it’s time to see what he can do.
Perhaps, even more importantly, Mr Wells must show he can be a great leader. With the team at the Ministry of Health sometimes seeming as though they’re splintering, Dr Dahl-Regis’ leadership, command and counsel will be missed.
Concerning her departure, what has been very apparent is that the technicians are bound by the decisions of the policymakers. Moreover, the truth of the matter is that our policies, after being very encouraging in the early stages of the pandemic, have left a lot to be desired of late. Mr Wells doesn’t have any option except to get this right, as the Prime Minister’s chances for re-election hinge greatly on Mr Wells’ performance.
Dr Minnis is certainly bestowing a great deal of trust in Mr Wells.
We have learned that we are going to have to step our game up on multiple fronts if we are going to survive this virus. It’s time to ratchet it up, Government of The Bahamas.