By Malcolm Strachan
AS the saying goes: When America sneezes, The Bahamas catches a cold. Imagine what becomes of us if that proverbial sneeze is caused by a disease that has already infected more than one million Americans. Despite being armed with this knowledge and that echoed over and over again from his advisers, US President Donald Trump has placed an extreme amount of urgency on reopening the US economy, presumably, at any cost.
Surely, for nations dependent on America’s economic health, this should be music to our ears - except for in this case when it could not be a more terrible idea. Still stuck in the throes of this global pandemic - which has already claimed the lives of nearly a quarter million people globally and almost 70,000 in the US - President Trump could not have been more anxious to pull the trigger on reopening.
With 24 states currently in the process of reopening and another ten still in the planning stages, many are wondering if the US realizes the dangers associated with moving forward so aggressively. And to be fair, there are many in and around the White House who are of the mind that this decision is coming much too soon. But unfortunately, those admonitions continue to fall on deaf ears. With legions of his supporters backing his decision, despite rising cases in those states, it is apparent the threat of economic collapse is scarier than the prospect of death for millions of Americans.
Notwithstanding that a shuttered economy also brings along its own negative implications, the total cost we may all end up bearing in the long run is perhaps being overlooked.
Commenting on this, head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus understands the urgency, but still is urging caution on the part of countries who may be jumping the gun.
At a virtual press conference in Geneva, he said: “I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone... At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”
And US proponent of maintaining restrictions, top infectious disease medical expert Dr Anthony Fauci has been very critical of the President’s push to ease Covid-19 mitigation policies.
“We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation,” said Dr Fauci.
This is exactly what should cause great concern for Bahamians.
It is quite clear that despite what our government does to blunt the curve locally, getting beyond the health aspect of this virus is only one of the many moving parts. In fact, it may be the one we have the most control over in the short-term – which isn’t at all that comforting to realise.
Considering a headline in this daily last week stating that a quarter of our population – 100,000 people – are food insecure, we cannot minimise the difficulty that lies before us. As pay cheque to pay cheque living is a norm for many lower and middle-class citizens, what happens when there is no pay cheque? And this is not just painting a picture of what is currently happening. Rather this is a foreshadowing of what may be the reality for an undefined amount of time which many of us are unable to conceive.
And considering how conservative that number of hungry Bahamians provided by The Bahamas Feeding Network may be, the hardship being experienced by fellow citizens is a harsh reality we must find solutions for. Especially as we consider the US supplies over 95 percent of the food we eat, we are in a truly precarious position if self-preservation comes in to play as it did with restrictions that were imposed on the export of medical supplies from the US.
Additionally, the recent controversy over meat processing plants being forced to stay open by President Trump amid worker safety concerns should lead to many concerns if there is a spike in cases as a result of states getting back to business. What happens if those plants close and there are supply shortages leading to price hikes or an all-out trade restriction on food items?
Such instances are things we must consider if we are truly prepared for.
While Bahamians are meeting the challenge of food sustainability by planting fruits and vegetables in their yards, if we are being honest this is merely a stop gap measure. We need a full evaluation of our approach to food security, which Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard spoke to in Parliament this past week. As heartening as it was hear, definitive timelines and the strategic implementation of this plan is needed to get us away from being so dependent on the US.
With many other Caribbean nations realizing the same, perhaps more regional trade is a part of the solution.
Additionally, we must consider how we can leverage our natural resources to create revenue generating industries which can lessen our dependence on getting heads in beds. Certainly, friends, we will be the wiser if we consider this crisis as a wake-up call. Any idea that once we’re on the other side of this – whenever that will occur – that we should just go back to business as usual will be beyond disappointing.