“So, what are we to do now?”
That’s a question we have been asking – but these are not our words, these are the words of Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
The problem, simply put, is the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak still affecting the United States.
We’ve done our part. For all the criticisms there might be over the circumstances surrounding Dr Duane Sands’ resignation as Health Minister and the failure of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to explain those, in terms of clamping down on the spread of the virus, The Bahamas and the ministry’s health team has done well.
But now, as we reach the point of reopening, we look at the runaway number of cases in the US and despair.
Mr D’Aguilar puts the numbers in stark context – saying if our population was in Florida, we would have had five times the numbers of deaths, in Georgia nearly eight times, in New York, 42 times the number we suffered. If the virus had reached us in the level it has affected the US, our healthcare services would likely have been overwhelmed.
When it comes to restarting tourism, how do we open our doors to a location where the virus is still rampant? That’s not just a balance of economy against health – imagine, heaven forbid, an outbreak of cases at a hotel leading to a rush of patients needing treatment and everyone who had booked at that hotel cancelling. A health crisis and a financial crisis all at once.
So the government has taken a change of tack. To come into the country, visitors will have to do the same as Bahamians on repatriation flights have been doing – present a negative test result to enter the country.
That will, of course, reduce the numbers coming, simply because of cost and availability of those tests. It will also not be a complete guarantee as someone might pick up the virus after taking the test. But it is a prudent measure and at this point prudence saves lives.
So, to return to the question, what are we to do now?
Well, one thing we’ve said before in this column is to market the country to Bahamians. Let Bahamians rediscover their country. Open venues for staycations. The prices may well need to come down a bit, offering discounts for locals as long as the costs of operations are covered, but it will get things going again and businesses can make their money back as more countries overcome the virus.
We are delighted to see that Mr D’Aguilar says officials will prioritise domestic tourism growth with a promotional campaign encouraging just that.
With some of the bigger resorts keeping their doors closed until later in the year, it’s also a prime opportunity for some of the smaller locations to shine, especially in the Family Islands.
As we wish our friends in the US well as they try to win their own fight with COVID-19, let’s give them a glimpse of what is waiting for them when they do.
Failing our animal friends
While we hail the ways in which we have succeeded, we should also own up to our failings.
The story of 70 animals being rescued from Freeport by US animal rescue organisations is a feel good one in the sense of the animals being saved – but a sad indictment that we are unable to take care of our own.
Part of that failing in Grand Bahama has been down to the damage from Hurricane Dorian – but we only have to look at the number of stray dogs roaming the streets in New Providence to recognise that there would have been a problem regardless of the impact of a major storm.
It is not of course the first time rescuers have come to the aid of animals in The Bahamas – even dating back to when horses had to be saved from the closure of the Hobby Horse Hall race track. But we need to take care of our own nation. We need to be in a position to do so. There’s a quote by Gandhi that comes to mind: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
That’s not just a high-minded way of looking at animals, it’s simply highlighting the bedrock of compassion in a nation. In the case of Grand Bahama, it’s highlighting the struggle the whole island is going through after Hurricane Dorian.
We need to deal with our strays, we need to neuter animals to stop more dogs suffering on the streets. We can do better, and we should.