With people taking to the streets all over the world to protest about the killing of George Floyd not many need to arrive on our shores on July 1 to cause a most crippling injury to the country’s economy.
By Malcolm Strachan
WITH tens of thousands of Bahamians on the verge of poverty as a result of the the COVID-19 pandemic, much-needed relief is on the way. The government has moved the country into Phase Four of the reopening plan – one step closer to a life as close to normal as possible – and June 15 will see the tourism industry begin to feel its first jolts of new life.
And with the country managing to evade what could have been a devastating spread of the virus, the government should receive gold stars. Unfortunately, this year has shown even the most perfect planning cannot account for all events.
As if staring down the barrel of a hurricane season is not enough to unsettle even the calmest of temperaments, a second wave of the pandemic may very well be triggered amid the mass protests over the barbaric killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police officers nearly two weeks ago.
With hundreds of thousands – possibly millions - of people taking to the streets all over the world, not many need to arrive on our shores on July 1 to cause a most crippling injury to the country’s economy.
While we should acknowledge such a powder keg moment in history warrants the stance being taken by black and brown people everywhere - along with our allies who stand in solidarity with us - the timing could not be more disadvantageous to our tourism reboot.
The images and sounds of protesters passionately lamenting centuries of disenfranchisement and social injustices encapsulates something so beautiful, yet equally frightening. As if we were not already concerned by America’s controversially executed reopening, the protests should worry many of us with the coronavirus still a matter of public health and safety.
Each protest looks like a petri dish for the spread of this infection and we should all be considering if the policies our government has put in place will stand up to the test.
The tourism readiness plan – developed by the Ministry of Tourism, the Hotel Tourism Association and other private and public bodies - will be the nation’s new gospel. With new COVID-19 regulations for airports, seaports and hotels being ramped up, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar seems confident social distancing and sanitisation practices will do well in mitigating the risks associated with reopening. In fact, he was quite clear last week that he has no illusions over possibility the virus will pose a problem once we’ve reopened. With what is occurring just north of us, we shouldn’t either.
As the minister noted last week, 82 percent of our arrivals come from the US – leaving us in a precarious position. Either the country continues to wither away into an economic wasteland, or we figure out how we can live - and more importantly thrive - with our new house guests threatening massive devastation every step of the way.
These are not conditions we delight in having to manage. Nonetheless, one thing is for certain, we will be able to determine what kind of danger we’re really in within the next month. Chief medical correspondent for CNN Dr Sanjay Gupta believes that despite protests taking place outdoors - which can decrease the chance of transmission - the US will have a much better idea of where it’s at if infection rates and hospitalisations increase.
Likewise, if our bookings originating from places where protests took place reflect an increase of importation of new cases of the coronavirus, we expect our government to refine its reopening policies to introduce further mitigation measures.
While it is highly unlikely for the government to take its foot off the pedal once the economic engine is running again, they cannot afford to ignore the potential realities. We need them to think about what they will do in the event such a thing happens.
There will be no time for complacency or inaction on the government’s part if cases begin to spike again. The same sentiments continue to be echoed by health experts from the WHO straight across the board as various jurisdictions continue to traverse this new landscape.
As it stands, no one knows when a vaccine will be available, or when it will be accessible for mass consumption. Another reality we ought to be considering is the possibility of there not being a vaccine for this virus.
Optimism will not see us through this. We need plans, contingencies and agile strategies to pivot quickly if our initial ones fail.
No doubt, the government will continue to be put to the test in the coming weeks. That said, it should be our hope they are successful so our citizens can get back to making an income and taking care of their families. However, it should all be done safely so we don’t end up right back in the difficult state we’ve endured for the past few months.