By Malcolm Strachan
SINCE the country’s first case of Covid-19 was announced, while the government has done its part in implementing strict legislation to regulate the movement of people, the same can’t be said for many Bahamian citizens. It would seem as though our reaction to impending hurricanes – stocking up on everything we think we need - has given us a similar reflex response to Covid-19, which is a completely different animal.
We’ve all seen it this past week, even after the 24-hour lockdown was instituted. When given the opportunity, the panic buying continued.
Rather than taking appropriate measures as advised by experts, Bahamians are still out in large numbers, crowding the food stores, pharmacies and roads.
It absolutely makes no sense.
The prime minister has already guaranteed - after speaking to local food retailers - that we are in no danger of running out. And to be fair, based on his handling of the situation, the very least we can do is give him the benefit of the doubt. However, we still proceed to play dangerously with this pandemic, a real threat to our lives and livelihoods.
Since the first case, which led to the infection of three other family members of Patient 1, additional cases of Covid-19 have already impacted Grand Bahama and other unrelated individuals on New Providence. Certainly, the signs show quite clearly this is just the beginning.
Indeed, we are very much in the unpredictable phase of the virus – community spread – where things, if mismanaged not just by the government, but by all of us, can take a drastic turn for the worse.
The chilling reality is we don’t know how many people around us have it. Neither you nor I know if we have Covid-19. What we do know, however, is that, globally, incidences are rapidly increasing toward 700,000 cases and more than 30,000 people are dead – snatched out of their loved ones lives.
Testimonials from families around the world have been incredibly heartbreaking. And in reflecting on how painful it has been after Hurricane Dorian, this has the potential to cause an astronomical amount of heartache if we don’t do our part. And while this is a cautionary tale to us all, with the government holding up its end, this is a prompt for citizens to begin having more difficult conversations that would help us to consider our actions.
Here’s what took many policymakers and citizens in Europe and the US too long to realise – once this gets in your community, whether you like it or not, everything has changed. For a time, nothing you thought was normal can be normal any more. By ignoring what’s going on and tuning out the experts, the media and the authorities, you are dangerously putting yourselves and those you love at risk.
Let’s consider some of the harsh realities associated with this virus.
Families are right now grieving not only the loss of their loved ones, but the opportunity to grieve the way we’re accustomed to – burying our dead. Preventive measures disallowing us from gathering in large groups will have funeral homes filled with the dead as people continue to pass on every day. It will be even worse if we experience anything close to what some of our neighbouring countries are going through – such as in the US, particularly New York. A state as wealthy as New York, which contributes the third highest among all states to the nation’s gross domestic product, is buckling under the assault of this virus. With more than 30,000 people infected and over 700 dead, one can only imagine what something like this would look like in The Bahamas.
This idea that, because “God loves The Bahamas” we are somehow insulated from such calamities portends that He must hate everybody else going through this. Newsflash – that is simply a farce.
If we don’t make the necessary adjustments to our lifestyles, quit the bellyaching and just grin and bear it for as long as we have to, we may just end up prolonging this way of life and watching many of the people we love die. And to make things worse, we have to hand select an exclusive VIP group to mourn and seek closure with us.
Does reading these words make it hit home for you yet?
I would bet it sounds crazy – like what life looks like in a distant country that could never be The Bahamas. But friends, Covid-19 is here and it is indeed spreading.
It is right now when people need to follow what has been mandated by government and take some personal accountability. Stay indoors unless you absolutely have to leave for work or important business.
For the individuals currently depending on social assistance to get by, the government has to, as soon as it can, digitise essential services. Otherwise, workers on the frontline – those not in the healthcare industry - will also be at extreme risk as this virus may be spreading its way through the community.
Each worker on social assistance, as a requirement, should have a bank account and be using online banking, allowing payments to be disbursed via direct deposit. This would keep many individuals safe.
Food retailers – grocery stores and restaurants - also need to innovate, and the government through the Small Business Development Centre, as a means of keeping people employed, can invest in local services that currently provide deliveries to people’s front doors. Such individuals can take the necessary training in terms of package and food handling to perform pick-up and delivery – making the process one whereby people don’t come into any contact with one another.
Essentially, the focus needs to be keeping as many Bahamians at home as possible because while measures taken thus far may have been aggressive and commendable, they will be rendered ineffective if they’re not being heeded by the general public or if the idea of social distancing just becomes impractical in certain necessary activities.
Certainly, there are those that are just being downright irresponsible that are putting most of us at risk.
But at the same time, we must submit to the reality that the average Bahamian family cannot afford to stock up on a month worth of groceries, and in many cases, even two weeks of items at one time. Even worse now, as thousands of Bahamians have been laid off in the wake of this global pandemic, those who aren’t getting a pay cheque need to do business at the Department of Social Services and the National Insurance Board.
The new challenge that exists for the government now is how do we innovate?