WHAT a difference a week makes.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis gave his national address and, barring his note that a statement would be coming from his Health Minister the next day on the issue of the border breach, projected a sense of calm and that matters were under control.
Yesterday’s press conference was anything but a continuation of that.
Let’s start with what was missing: Dr Minnis.
Having taken on the duties of the health portfolio after accepting Health Minister Dr Duane Sands’ resignation, Dr Minnis was conspicuous by his absence yesterday. No Minister of Health, no explanation of where he was. When asked directly by reporters where was Dr Minnis, they could not say.
Imagine, if you will, that things had gone differently in the past week. Imagine if Dr Minnis had allowed Dr Sands to continue in his post. One would imagine that press conference would have gone very differently.
Previously, it seemed that while we had our setbacks in the battle against COVID-19 there was a steady progression back towards normality. Yesterday, things seemed rudderless – as if charting a course with no one to set the direction.
Let’s talk about the other thing that was missing – a dozen people supposedly under quarantine.
We’re not sure how 12 people who are supposed to be staying indoors and are meant to be monitored can somehow disappear – but we are sure that not everything is being done to find them, no matter what might have been said in yesterday’s conference.
The penalty for breaking quarantine is up to five years in jail – and yet no police alert for these individuals has come the way of the press. No wanted posters. No appeals to the public to identify where these potential dangers to public health might be.
There was even a query raised by officials as to whether fictitious names were given by those individuals. How were more thorough checks not done? Are we not even sure of the identities of those in quarantine?
It’s a long way from how things seemed to be going a week ago. Certainly, if Dr Sands was still in his post, those dozen people might still be missing – but would the matter have been taken more seriously? Might there have been a stronger response? Rather than just seemingly shrugging it off. Dr Pearl McMillan even said that of all those who had been in quarantine, “12 of that number is not too bad”.
What’s the point of a quarantine if it isn’t being enforced. As we prepare to welcome home more Bahamians who will have to go into quarantine, how do we know they will be monitored any more stringently than those 12 missing people?
And now let’s talk about the final thing that was missing – an opportunity.
After the turbulence of this week, this was a chance for Dr Minnis to push the reset button. This was a chance to stand in front of the nation and assure them that despite the change at the top of the health ministry, there was no change in the progress being made. This was a chance to let the Bahamian people know that things were being taken care of, and that he was in charge.
Instead, he went missing. He wasn’t there to answer questions – which perhaps might have been his reason for not being there if there were questions he didn’t want to answer. He wasn’t there as a figurehead. He wasn’t there as a bridge to other organisations – such as the police to advise on what was being done to track down the missing dozen.
Perhaps this is one job too far. Perhaps this puts more on his plate than he can handle. Perhaps even now he might be asking what if Dr Sands was still in that post. Would it be too much to consider returning him to the post, if that is what the nation needs right now?
Despite the opening up of more parts of the country, this week has been a stumble for the government, and it needs to get back in its stride. Dr Minnis will presumably give another address on Sunday – likely without questions – but he can’t avoid giving answers forever.