We have all seen the pictures. Empty streets in downtown Nassau. Empty seats on planes. Prince George Wharf and Festival Place, where the usual complaint is overcrowding, now eerily silent. Store shutters and roll downs sending an unmistakable message – closed for business. At LPIA, the nation’s largest and busiest airport, you could stage a soccer match outside two terminals without causing inconvenience to anyone trying to check in.
The coronavirus is a danger to the economic health of the nation.
Its power is stunning. With three confirmed cases of the disease and no deaths to date, COVID-19 has brought the engines that drive the tourism-dependent economy to a halt. Hotel workers are being asked to take unpaid leave. Light industry businesses, already struggling, are trying to figure out how to pay staff when they can barely pay VAT. Feeding centres are wondering how to handle the crisis when more people than ever will need assistance and volunteers are told not to gather in numbers. Pastors urged to hold services online.
In a country of people known to be among the friendliest and warmest in the world, we are ordered not to hug. We try to adjust, but hugging is in our genes.
This is unchartered territory. We know how to respond when a hurricane advisory is issued. We have done it a hundred or a thousand times before. But we have never been in a COVID-19-like situation. For some, it is worse than for others. In Abaco, rebuilding from Dorian’s wrath is still in early stages and in Grand Bahama, suffering an already unacceptable unemployment rate and the personal cost of Dorian’s fury, the last thing Grand Bahamians need is its hopes of a recovery being slowed by a global stranglehold on growth.
It is understandable that many have hit the panic button. I suggest we look at it differently. Not panic, but a temporary halt and reset, the incredible, greatly under appreciated Pause button.
The idea of thinking of this time as a Pause button moment, or month, or period, is that it helps define where we stand and it promises opportunity to control what comes after. It also gives it a label we can refer to when we look back on it years from now. March 2020, the time in history when The Bahamas hit the Pause button. Pause – an interruption. A place of inactivity between what went before and what will come after.
On our screens, the Pause button is the two equal rectangular lines, side by side with a space in between. We love the Pause button. It allows us to stop a scene in a movie right then and there even if it is the middle of a war or a hot steamy kiss just so we can refill our wine glass or go to the bathroom before we resume Play.
Pause is only a temporary state.
Googling its history was interesting. Its origin goes back hundreds of year to the term Caesura, (think cease) and used in music to mean, stop or in poetry, to pause, or in literature, a well-placed comma. It first appeared as a standard fixture in our daily lives in the 1960s in the old eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorders and a short while later, cassette players.
As drastic as the churning waves of coronavirus control measures are, if we think of this period as a Pause and reset button in the life of The Bahamas, we have an opportunity to shape what comes after. We can vow to respect the role of tourism while working to wean ourselves off its single teat. So long as we suck at that single source, we will always be vulnerable to its withdrawal.
When the Play button hits, we can demonstrate far stronger and more serious attempts to support local farmers and develop food security, renew efforts to boost sustainable businesses, cottage industries and light industry, place more emphasis on renewable sources of energy, show more deference to construction trades and development and continue to respect financial and professional services.
What we can learn from hitting our Pause button is this: Let us take out the National Development Plan, show that we are bigger than dwelling on which political party authorized it, and when the Play button lights up, be ready. Then, appoint an oversight committee to continue guiding the Plan so it remains dynamic and relevant.
When the economy kicks back into first gear, let’s make sure it can get to second, third, fourth and overdrive by running parallel streams – one acknowledging and serving the role of tourism and the other focused and well-resourced and financed to grow the diversification of domestic construction, development, agriculture, mari-culture, energy efficiency and solutions, marine-related services, unique financial services, medical advancements and environmental awareness and protection.