AS much as the coronavirus has medical consequences, so too it has become clear that it has economic consequences.
For many, those consequences are immediate – and as pressing as the health concerns.
Among those to feel the sting yesterday were Atlantis employees, who were asked to take their earned vacation days or, ominously, to volunteer to take two weeks of unpaid leave.
They are not the only business to be taking stock of the market and what it will mean for a company’s long-term prospects.
Across the island, all manner of businesses are assessing what they need to do. Some are closing their doors for a while, some are rethinking their approach to things, all are trying to work out what the impact of the coronavirus will be on their income.
For some, the good days in the past will have left them more able than others to weather the storm. We would hope Atlantis remembers living high on the income of tourism over many years as it makes decisions that affect the income of those who helped play a part in making the most of those good days. We would hope the same for other businesses too – to take a look at the long game, and consider what they can do to keep things going until those good days come again. It is easier to reinvigorate a business with a long tradition and an existing skilled workforce than it is to start from scratch. Prudence may be needed, but so might some reinvestment from previous profits.
Equally, as citizens we must be cautious, but not panicky. Businesses still need our custom. Maybe as we practice reducing contact with others, we might make that restaurant order a takeout, or use delivery services where available, but if we want businesses to still be there, we mustn’t forget they need us as well as us needing them.
This weekend, perhaps the most important workers of all were busily restocking shelves as Bahamians emptied them – the staff of the supermarkets working hard to ensure people had enough to take home to fill their cupboards with in case of prolonged isolation. Even as some panic buying took place, those workers were at their posts, helping Bahamians to get what they needed.
People need to work, people need to be paid, people need to put food on their table. We need to make that as straightforward a process as possible while still doing what we can to prevent the virus from spreading.
That might mean changes in sick pay rules – there’s little point in telling people to isolate themselves if they have symptoms if in order to get sick pay they need to come out of the house and go and see a doctor to get a sick note, potentially infecting that doctor.
Businesses don’t want people who are unwell turning up for work and infecting others in the workforce, leading to many people being out sick instead of one – so make sure as much accommodation is made as possible for people to stay home instead of coming to the workplace.
This is the time for business continuity plans to kick into action – those ways of making sure the business keeps going in the worst case scenarios. It’s also time for the essential staff we have trained and depended upon to shine.
This is also a time when the government needs to shine – and it has fallen short in the area of communication. This has been a regular failing in government, but yesterday officials were unclear in their answers over the Fleming Street Clinic and testing procedures.
Early on Sunday evening, the Ministry of Health put out a statement saying the clinic was being closed due to unforeseen circumstances – really, ministry? You can’t tell us the real reason? This was being at the very least economical with the truth.
It turns out the patient with coronavirus visited the clinic last week, and so the clinic was shut down while it was cleaned and any areas that might have been infected dealt with. Why not just tell us that?
The fact it took some time to get to that answer is not encouraging for clarity and transparency of communication. We need simple facts, without a veil of officialdom over them.
Meanwhile, staff at the clinic were “encouraged” to self-quarantine. Encouraged? What does that mean? Were they ordered to? What happens if they didn’t go along with the encouragement? Have the people they came into contact with been traced, including family members? When The Tribune tried to get more information, we were palmed off to other officials or left calling phones that were never answered. This is a national crisis – officials need to act like it, and that very much includes answering calls when the public needs information.
These are very basic matters that did not need to be hidden. By not telling us, it even makes people think that facts are being covered up.
The last thing we need is citizens not feeling the government are giving them the full information. We need to be able to trust what the government says. This was not good enough – and there had better not be more examples.
Just as we need to feel there is no distance between ourselves and government, then equally if ever there was a time for workplace and workforce to be close together, this is it. The goal should be to help us all to thrive, for the good of all – because no one benefits otherwise. It will be a difficult path ahead, but let’s take it together.