By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government’s move to close The Bahamas’ borders to all commercial transportation from the US was yesterday branded “a low-risk proposition” by the Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive.
Jeffrey Beckles, pictured, told Tribune Business the decision to cut-off much of this nation’s largest tourist market was “painful but absolutely necessary” to prevent the further explosion of COVID-19 cases in The Bahamas.
He added that the timing of the prime minister’s action, less than three weeks after The Bahamas re-opened its borders to international travel, will minimise any reputational and other fall-out given that it coincides with the slowest part of the tourism season.
Arguing that Dr Hubert Minnis was right to place the nation’s health above the economy, with the former now firmly tied to the latter’s success, Mr Beckles said: “It’s a low-risk proposition. Look at the season we’re going into now. It’s a net-net. To close the borders now is less of a risk because we’re going into the slower season.
“If we’re going to take a risk, we’re taking it at the best possible time. We’re in a rather quiet part of the season on some fronts. We have to take the initiative now to protect the greater good. It’s painful but necessary. It’s absolutely necessary.”
The Prime Minister, in his national address yesterday, indicated he would not hesitate to reimpose restrictive measures that shut down economic activity to protect lives and the Bahamian healthcare system from becoming overburdened by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“The world will be in this cycle of opening up, reviewing community spread, and tightening up again for quite some time. You must be prepared for this. The Bahamas must be prepared for this,” Dr Minnis warned businesses and residents.
“We are trying to get Bahamians back to work and to promote economic activity, while also limiting the spread of the virus. We are trying to open parts of our economy and our society, while promoting and requiring health measures to protect lives.
“I understand the frustration and the disappointment of many Bahamians and residents that may ensue as we re-implement certain restrictions. But as a country we have to do what is right and necessary. If we do not take these measures now, we will pay a higher and deadlier price later.”
Many have blamed the recent local surge in COVID-19 infections on Bahamians travelling abroad following the July 1 border re-opening and then bringing the virus back with them. Mr Beckles said the Prime Minister’s move emphasised “the level of attention that has to be paid to the impact of this virus.
“It’s critical that we all understand that the best way out of this, and to get through this, is going to be increased cooperation,” he added. “Realistically, we cannot afford for their to be less than a totally collaborative effort by every citizen and in every space we’re in. That’s how seriously it has to be taken.
“The fact Atlantis has delayed its re-opening speaks to the serious impact this virus is having on economies around the world, and tourism-dependent markets like ours. We have Florida, a huge market for us, being inundated with cases. We cannot turn a blind eye to that.
“The burden lies on all of us. It takes healthy people to have a robust, active economy. I think everyone would agree that the beating we took in the early months of the shutdown was not fun, so we have to comply with the orders put in place for our protection,” Mr Beckles continued.
“The actions of the few impact the lives of the many, and that’s why we’re calling on Bahamians to hear the message, be more responsible and if you don’t have to travel there are benefits to be had from supporting local businesses in a safe environment.”
Dr Minnis, meanwhile, imposed extra measures on Grand Bahama in response to that island suffering the worst increase inn COVID-19 measures following the border re-opening. Domestic air and sea travel, as well as international, will be closed, with the Prime Minister warning that another lockdown may be imposed come Friday if there is no improvement.
One business community source, speaking on condition of anonymity, yesterday told Tribune Business: “We cannot do another lockdown. If we do another lockdown we’ll never re-open. It’s very, very serious.”
Carey Leonard, the Freeport-based Callenders & Co attorney, said Grand Bahama’s problems also stemmed from the relative lack of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing that was being conducted by the Ministry of Health.
“As far as I’m concerned it will get worse,” Mr Leonard said. “Nassau is going to have the same problem sooner or later without proper testing and tracing. Then the only way to do deal with it is to keep locking people down all the time, and that’s the way to ruin a country’s economy... Opening up to the US made no sense at all.”