THE closer we get to reopening the country for business, the more conundrums we face. Open up too much and risk the virus coming back in, or keep the door so tightly closed we don’t let the tourism industry rebuild.
In today’s Tribune, the evidence of that dilemma is clear to see. We have Atlantis pushing back its opening date, a concern to all the workers who were hoping to get back to earning their regular salaries. Then there’s the resumption of domestic travel without the need for a COVID-19 travel card – that short-lived travel card experiment seems to have been tossed over one shoulder before it even got started.
The biggest dilemma is what to do with tourists when they come. Do we ask them for evidence of a negative test result? That presumes tourists have easy access to such tests in the country they are travelling from, and as we’ve seen in our own country, test kits can be in short supply.
Bahamians arriving here have been asked to spend 14 days in quarantine – but how would that work with tourists? Cruise ships can come and be gone overnight, and with most tourists holidaying for two weeks or less, 14 days of quarantine gobbles that up completely. Put up a sign saying spend two weeks in quarantine or don’t come at all and lots of potential visitors will choose the latter.
“We all keep holding on for a vaccine,” said Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar, “but we can’t remain in a situation for lockdown and curfews until a vaccine is developed, that’s not a viable alternative.”
The problem is, getting to zero transmission has been our goal for so long that if we abandon that now, then what was the point of what we’ve gone through so far?
Bahamians who were required to spend two weeks isolated away from their family will not be impressed if it’s one rule for them, another for a visitor hopping off a cruise ship, browsing the downtown stores and heading to dance at a local nightclub.
So what measures shall we take? Will entry be limited from certain countries until they have reduced the level of their infection? Will businesses catering to tourists be given clear instructions for how to implement social distancing?
Our biggest market for visitors is the US – which has had a little less than a third of all the cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the world. Getting back to normal means having our biggest market back again, but the virus is still far from controlled there, and the demonstrations in the US over the past few days will not have helped curtail its spread either.
So what’s the plan? The Bahamian people have played their part. We must not allow all of this to have been in vain.
Justice for all
The demonstrations across the US will have been followed closely by many Bahamians.
After George Floyd was killed while being detained by police officers, with one kneeling on his neck even as he told them he couldn’t breathe, people were understandably angered. Few will have been surprised – black people being badly treated by police doesn’t just have a long history, it is a part of everyday life for too many. The difference now is that people can film it on their phones and it isn’t hidden away as easily.
Bahamians are obviously keen to show solidarity for the civil rights marches and protests being held in the wake of this killing. That’s not just a matter of caring for our fellow men and women, it’s personal for many Bahamians who have family members living in the US, who have sons and daughters studying at colleges there, or who remember their own time studying at American colleges.
So it is comforting to know that Bahamian consulates and missions are watching out for the safety of Bahamians who might be caught up in the middle of protests.
Bahamians are in a perilous position if they take part in such protests. Their US-born friends might spend a night behind bars, a Bahamian protestor might get thrown out of the country.
It is worth remembering there is more than one way to make a difference, and ways to support those whose cause you share without risking deportation.
The cause itself is one we share. Equality, it seems, is a fight that is never won, and that requires each generation to fight for rights that all should share.
To those Bahamians in the US, we would also say this – when you come home, let that passion for change help in our own battles here at home. Let justice for all be something we strive for in all countries.