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Insight: We Can’T Stay Closed For Ever But Now Isn’T The Time To Roll The Dice

By Malcolm Strachan

As we stand on the doorstep of the day of reckoning, anxiety is in the air. On one hand, many Bahamians are ready to get back to a place that can be considered normal. On the other, those taking a considered approach to the government’s decision to reopen the country are deeply uneasy. As we think about our loved ones and other citizens – those with compromised immune systems in particular - it is frightening to witness the coronavirus uptick continue with record-shattering force in the US.

And while America continues to get battered daily with rising COVID-19 cases, their leadership remains tone-deaf and ignorant to the facts.

With another single-day record being smashed as this was written - the US had more than 47,000 new cases on Friday, following two consecutive days of hitting new highs. Just as disconcerting, Florida is one of 13 states that have set their own records in COVID-19 cases over the past week and a half.

Nonetheless, with options looking as clear as mud, we press on.

With Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar noting pre-pandemic levels will likely not return for another 18-24 months, what other choice we have? On top of that, our good friends at Moody’s made the decision to downgrade the country to junk status. And if any of that was not bad enough, another 1,200 Bahamians are about to become unemployed on the heels of Baha Mar’s announcement of a 20 percent staff cut.

People, we are in dire straits.

And the reality is we literally cannot afford to keep the country closed another moment. But the scary thing about COVID-19 is although you can’t see its effects outside of the physical toll it exacts on a person’s health, what it can do to an economy is much more devastating because you don’t need to catch the virus to be severely injured by it. Unfortunately, reopening the country will not save us in the long haul, as all it does is provide a buffer.

If what is happening right next door to us is any indication of what to expect once travel resumes, this will likely be a short-lived experience.

Can you imagine what a coronavirus spread would look like in our local hospitality industry? We’re talking about the majority of the private sector labour force whom, in most cases, live in densely populated communities, being sent home to quarantine for the mere threat of the virus.

Let us not forget how 200 healthcare workers were asked to self-isolate at home for two weeks following a scare at the Princess Margaret Hospital. At least, in that instance, our tourism product was largely unhampered. We can’t be too certain, though, that we would be able to say the same if, God forbid, a Bahamian employee becomes infected and we are unable to figure out who “Patient Zero” is. Such a scenario could very well portray the image to the world that people travelling to The Bahamas are at risk – the absolute last kind of press we need.

International headlines would surely push a stake through the heart of our economy.

But at least we would have reopened the country, right?

Seriously, what sense does it make to reopen without the proper safeguards in place? Even with accepting we have few alternatives, given we are so incredibly tourism dependent, much more should be taken into consideration.

We may not be able to take as bold a stance as the UK did by putting an outright ban on US inbound travel. However, we should be considering such measures for COVID-19 hotspots. And to the extent that neuters our tourism marketing, perhaps this calls for innovation and incentivising people from other regions minimally impacted by the virus to visit the country.

What we shouldn’t do is walk into what is right in front of us – doomsday.

I caution you – do not write off such warnings as gloom and doom, pessimism, mischief making and the like. If done haphazardly, we are guaranteed to set ourselves back eons in the fight against this pandemic and all our sacrifice would have been for naught.

Nothing has significantly changed with regard to our capacity to withstand our healthcare system being over-run with COVID-19 cases. Further, our ability to keep cases down prior to reopening was done in a controlled environment and should not be looked upon as an indicator of future success.

Additionally, two weeks was not nearly enough time to simulate what the Bahamas COVID-19 service model should look like, as it has been seemingly taking place in a vacuum. Allowing operators to come up with their own coronavirus modifications in silos makes it apparent that we are not harnessing the opportunity to become a destination known for its tourism experience in a COVID-19 world.

Baha Mar not being on board with opening on Wednesday is the proof that we simply aren’t ready.

This move is being done out of desperation. And while that is certainly understandable, given the circumstances, the risks - unless we are pleasantly surprised - will likely far outweigh the reward.

All said, I sincerely hope that I am made a fool.

Comments

birdiestrachan 4 days, 12 hours ago

BY the way Strachan how is your shepherd doc??. The Lord is my Shepherd.

Did you and the peoples time voters really expect any better from "roc with doc" I did not.

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tribanon 4 days, 8 hours ago

As for the writer's last sentence, it is Minnis who will most assuredly be made the fool. Within a few short weeks after July 1, both Minnis and D'Aguilar are going to be personally responsible for a massive surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations that totally overwhelms what little resources are available to medical doctors, nurses, technicians and other healthcare workers within our very resource constrained public and private healthcare systems.

Bluntly put, the very foolish decision of Minnis and D'Aguilar to pre-maturely re-open our borders to international travellers at a time when Florida and many other states in the US are awash with escalating Covid-19 hospitalizations is tantamount to a death sentence for many elderly Bahamians and those already suffering from serious underlying medical conditions.

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proudloudandfnm 3 days, 22 hours ago

I do hope we get an announcement today saying (at the very least) we will not open to any country currently experiencing a surge....

Opening to the US right now is just dumb....

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Dawes 3 days, 19 hours ago

The problem is if you don't open to the US then there is no point re-opening. We all know this.

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happyfly 3 days, 22 hours ago

As much as I like to give Papa Doc a hard time.....is too many people around here who think we actually have a choice in the matter right now. Too many people don't understand how imports and exports work, government debt, foreign exchange, etc. As predicted back in March, too much lockdown too soon has led to a complete collapse of our foreign reserves right in the middle of the drama. No foreign reserves means no food imports and no diesel to keep our electricity turned on. We now have three choices. 1) reopen our economy and prey that some crazy Americans come here in the middle of a pandemic and give us some of their US$. 2) We borrow in the middle of the biggest global crisis since WW2 which equals giving half of Andros away to loan sharks. 3) We stay hiding under our bed and prey that the lord will bring us some manna from heaven.

I am very very sorry for all you people out there who are terrified to death of this virus but 50 years of expecting Bahamian Politicians to give you something for nothing has given them nothing left to work within a crisis

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Dawes 3 days, 19 hours ago

Fully agree. Many others live in this bubble that we can just shut until the virus is over and then re-open as though nothing has happened. The number of people already about to find out they will be laid off will be dwarfed by the immediate layoffs should we close again. Yes it is a huge risk to re-open but there is nothing to stop those with underlying conditions or who are old to self isolate, there is no need for all of us to stay closed up.

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ThisIsOurs 3 days, 16 hours ago

I don't believe we should be hiding under our beds. I believe in the past three months we should have been working to dramatically shift our focus. We did nothing.

We waited for July 1 because the cruise ships and hotels told us they would be in operation. Not because we had any systems in place. Then low and behold everybody but us backed out, not worth the risk. leaving us to open with little benefits. Some visitors will come and it will help some people but there will be no overwhelming benefit. I was hopeful on May 10th 2017, extremely so, I was hopeful in April 2020 like wow, things have to change now...but nothing....they don't want anything to change. Persons are beating down their doors with options. They don't want it to change. 100% dependent on the fickle tourist dollar and us dependent on a hotel maid job

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mandela 3 days, 21 hours ago

This is going to be a scary period in the life of the Bahamas, we couldn't handle the few cases we had, I sure hope they know what they are doing because if people start falling sick by the dozens a time or hundreds we will definitely be up s$$t creek

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Honestman 3 days, 19 hours ago

Tourist income over the next three months will be modest and so why expose the country to COVID for such a low return? Is this an experiment? If so it's a darn risky one.

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ThisIsOurs 3 days, 16 hours ago

You need the graphic artist to magically remove those trees from the photos

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