With coronavirus news sweeping the world, it is easy to get caught up in the reports of flight bans, Disneyland and Broadway closing and let fear get to us.
The result can be the exact opposite of what these measures are trying to achieve – protecting people rather than exposing them to risk. Instead, people dash to stores to over-stock up on items when they don’t need to, or burden the medical sector with concerns when the country has not recorded a single case of coronavirus.
We need to take a moment. Take a breath.
It is appropriate to be concerned and to make suitable preparations. But you don’t need to stock up on a year’s worth of toilet paper, or go from never buying bleach to buying every container you can find. Be sensible.
In yesterday’s Tribune, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said the country expects a worst case scenario of 400 cases of coronavirus. That would take a considerable period of time – if you look at how the virus has affected other countries, weeks have passed since a first case before measures to restrict movement have been put in place. If you fill your cupboard with snacks right now, they’ll be like the hurricane snacks that are long gone before the storm arrives.
Measures are being taken already to reduce risk – but that is out of an abundance of caution. Sporting events are being postponed or cancelled, and that is not a sign that you need to panic, but rather a sign of being cautious. For some of these, it’s a case of asking why take the risk rather than pressing on regardless. It’s being sensible.
We need to be aware that even for those who catch the virus, the majority will be fine. What is important is to minimise the risk of spreading the virus to those who might not be fine if they catch it. We’ve said it before in this newspaper many times – wash your hands thoroughly, use sanitisers, keep your distance from people, avoid shaking hands, isolate yourself if you have symptoms or feel you might have been exposed to someone with the virus. These aren’t things that will change your world – but they can help to reduce the spread of germs and the virus, and that might stop it reaching others.
Equally, if you don’t need medical care, don’t clog up the system and stop others from getting care they might need.
And if you’ve got an elderly neighbour, especially one who lives on their own? Check in on them. Keep your distance so you don’t spread any bugs yourself, but stay in regular contact and help them out with their own preparations.
Clear communication at government level is also important – President Donald Trump created confusion last night when stating that air travel from all of Europe was banned apart from the UK, and including cargo flights. It turns out a number of European countries are not included in the ban, and cargo will continue as normal. That kind of miscommunication can lead to people rushing to find out if they are affected – and further jamming up switchboards and helplines.
Yesterday, the strength of clear communication was on show with a quick response from the Ministry of Transport to news of a cruise ship – registered under a Bahamian flag - with five people on board diagnosed with coronavirus headed for Bahamian waters. The ministry quickly said the boat would not be allowed to dock. Again, no need for panic.
Follow the guidelines, listen to reliable sources – and not the fake reports going round, the kind that led the University of The Bahamas to have to come out and tell people they’re not closing their doors. Sources that spread lies are trying to scare you – so don’t give them the satisfaction.
We reiterate – no one in The Bahamas has been diagnosed with the coronavirus as yet. Unlike other countries, we have been in a position where we can prepare, we can learn from the response of other nations, and we can be ready to isolate anyone affected if necessary.
There is a difference between preparation and panic. We need to do more of the former, and none of the latter.