On Monday, 40 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed, most of them in Grand Bahama and New Providence. The were 16 new cases on Sunday and 10 on Saturday. The return of weekend lockdowns and the 7pm curfew were not welcomed. Everyone knew there would be an announcement last Friday, but most expected a full lockdown. Days later, people are still unclear as to what is and is not permitted because there has been no widespread written communication detailing the regulations. The prime minister specifically mentioned a few areas including restaurants, barbershops and inter-island freight so it was assumed everything else would continue as it has been for the past few weeks. Some people have taken to social media, however, to get clarity because they have received conflicting information or been given instructions by police officers that do not match the information shared at the last press conference.
It is difficult to keep track of the changes. Graphics are being produced and shared by the Office of the Prime Minister on Facebook. These are helpful, but not always easy to find. While they have start dates, there is no way to know whether or not you are looking at the most recent information. The website is not being properly updated, nor is it being used to its full potential. The “Important Information” section of the COVID-19 page has not been updated since May 10. The COVID-19 dashboard page was last updated on July 26 and before that, June 30. There needs to be a page that is updated with every change and clearly states the date and time of the last update. It should include information specifically related to grocery stores, banks and credit unions, gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, beaches and parks, gatherings including weddings, funerals and religious services, domestic travel and international travel.
We should not have to look in multiple places to find the most basic information. Most people go to Facebook in search of answers. Sometimes it works, but sometimes it makes things worse because we are depending on each other to secure accurate information when it is not given by the authorities.
Social media is a powerful tool when used well. The Office of the Prime Minister Facebook page is used to livestream press conferences and national addresses regarding COVID-19. There is a post on the page that lists the key points from the prime minister’s address on Friday. As of Tuesday morning, there were 129 comments. They varied and a few of them asked questions that have yet to be answered. At a glance, four questions were about inter-island travel, specifically for tourists on Family Islands who need to get to Nassau for the flights out of the country. There should be a social media manager equipped to respond to the questions in the comments. At the very least, each post can direct people to the appropriate place to ask questions and receive timely responses. It should come as no surprise that people have questions and it is not difficult to put a system in place to answer them.
It is expected that the guidelines — washing hands, sanitising when hand washing is not possible, wearing clean masks and maintaining a distance of six feet from other people — remain the same. We understand that change in circumstances, specifically the number of new COVID-19 cases, require a shift in our response. We will move back and forth between phases based on the health risk and level of community spread. We do, however, have a problem with restrictions that do not apply to other people in the same circumstances.
Last weekend, video footage was shared from a wedding held in Harbour Island. It was clear that social distancing was not adhered to, there were dozens of people in attendance and masks were not properly used by guests or people in the Junkanoo rushout. People were rightfully upset that this wedding - and another in New Providence which did not make social media - went on as though the Prime Minister had not just announced that such events could only take place with a maximum of five people. It was also disgusting to see a guest at the window sexualise an entertainer by simulation of groping her without her realising it. This is just one example of the objectification of Black women by tourists who believe they are entitled to our bodies.
Residents of The Bahamas have had to postpone their weddings or significantly change their plans to get married on the set date. People have also postponed funerals or had to be selective about who would be allowed to attend services. It was not said that anyone could apply for exemption from these restrictions, so it was upsetting to learn the Prime Minister granted permission for these two weddings to proceed when others simply played by the rules.
A good time to think about our freedoms
As Emancipation Day approaches and another weekend lockdown looms, it is an interesting time to think about freedom. There has been a fair amount of discussion about freedom and liberties, the constitutionality of the emergency order and suitability of the measures themselves.
Does it makes sense to limit weddings and funerals to five people when scores of people are in the grocery store at the same time? Is it really necessary to close beaches and parks? Can we not even have a view?
A few days ago, I was very early for an appointment in the downtown area. My first thought was drive to the nearest beach where I could park, remain in the vehicle and enjoy the salt air and view of the sparkling turquoise ocean we use to attract tourists. First, I tried to access Western Esplanade from the entrance near Nassau Street, but there were barricades. Then, I tried the entrance to Arawak Cay which was open, but there was a red gate blocking access to the strip of restaurants and barricades blocking access to the road running parallel to the beach.
I did not bother to drive to Saunders Beach, sure there would be barricades there too. I remembered when it was possible to just pull to the side of the road on West Bay Street, opposite the plaza or gas station, and enjoy the beach from a vehicle. There is now no space to do that. There was nowhere in the area that I could go to to see the expansive horizon. I settled for an obstructed view from the fort hill. I could not help but notice that I was only able to access a very small portion of what was available. That is, quite often, the way it feels for many of us, living in paradise. We can use the “I live where you vacation” hashtag as much as we like. It does not mean we have the experience of paradise which we sell to other people.
We are not just heading into another lockdown weekend. It is another holiday weekend. It is a holiday to celebrate freedom from slavery. Are we content to be free to work to provide an experience we cannot have ourselves? We are not permitted to enjoy the beach and we are definitely not going to be able to enjoy Fox Hill Day with the usual festivities. We have already forgone Independence celebrations.
What are we doing with our freedom? It has to be for more than just work. COVID-19 has changed some things, but it has also made other things more apparent. This weekend is a good time to think about what freedom is for us right now, what it should be and what we are prepared to do to fully access and activate it. We deserve more.