AROUND the world, governments are trying to work out how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
This is not a calamity affecting a single nation, this is affecting the whole world. Even those nations where there has not been a single case yet – though 165 countries have now reported at least one – will feel the economic effects.
Today, we find out the path Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis intends to take. He will have no shortage of examples to follow from around the world. Yesterday, the UK pledged to guarantee around $400bn in loans to business to keep them solvent while the effects of coronavirus are felt. In France, President Emmanuel Macron said “We are at war” with the virus and restricted movement apart from essential activities such as food shopping, while promising support, suspending utility bills and rent for small businesses. Italy was making funds available to postpone mortgage, loan and tax payments.
Even in the US, President Donald Trump talked of sending cheques directly to citizens to give emergency financial aid after former presidential candidate Senator Mitt Romney proposed $1,000 cheques to Americans. Not so long ago, talk of a universal basic income in the US was greeted with shrieks of horror about a slide to socialism, and now citizens might receive cheques from their government.
So when Prime Minister Minnis speaks today, he will have no shortage of proposals being put forward from around the world that he might draw upon – and no easy path to choose to implement his ideas.
No matter whether you approve of what Dr Minnis has done in government so far or not, it must be said he has had to face difficult times in office. First, there was edging The Bahamas away from the prospect of a further credit downgrade, then there was the horror of Hurricane Dorian, that claimed Bahamian lives and blew a hole in every budget plan. Now he faces the twin task of managing the health of the nation from the virus itself and the finances of a nation built on tourism as airplanes stop flying and cruise ships stop sailing. There is no easy prescription for the doctor to write.
His first task will be to announce his new proposals on social distancing. These will be enforceable by police – but as citizens we should not trouble officers who will have bigger tasks to deal with at this time. We should willingly comply to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. It’s nothing less than our national duty.
On Sunday, as word spread of the first case of coronavirus on our shores, there was the bizarre sight at supermarkets of people panicked enough to stock up on groceries to excess yet still not alarmed enough to stop hugging the friends they saw in the aisles. It’s as if only half of the message has been getting through to people.
The new rules, it seems, will forbid gatherings that do not ensure people are kept at least three to six feet apart – though we shall see when Dr Minnis speaks the detail of that. Credit to the businesses that have already started to implement distancing measures – such as the Royal Bank of Canada and Lowe’s Pharmacy – such common sense will help to limit the chances of infection.
We hope other businesses and churches will follow suit. We hope citizens will take on board the need for such protection and follow the rules – while also ensuring they regularly wash hands, wipe surfaces and for goodness sake, stay home if you feel any symptoms of being sick.
Beyond the distancing measures, we need to face up to the economic reality that lies ahead. This situation is probably going to mean more borrowing, for individuals and all the way up to government. Some people will find themselves out of work, or taking time off without pay, and those people are going to need to eat, need to have shelter, need to have the support of their fellow citizens. To get through, some are going to need to spend now and pay back later – we hope investors and institutions are ready and willing to help with that.
This is not going to be over tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Our immediate steps are to protect lives, but our next steps will be to protect our future. It is no easy path that Dr Minnis has to tread – but we should do all we can to follow the new rules. This is no time to get in the way and make things more difficult.