IN the wake of the resignation of Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, there were clear lessons to be learned. The slow revelation of more information about how a COVID-19 positive passenger got on board a repatriation flight shows that some skipped those lessons.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis welcomed back the 183 Bahamians and residents who returned to New Providence and Grand Bahama. He didn’t spell it out in his speech but those passengers came back from Fort Lauderdale on two separate planes. One plane – with 88 people on board – flew directly to New Providence. It was the second plane that had the infected passenger on board.
Dr Minnis said in his speech that the “agreement with those wishing to return is that no one who tested positive for the virus would be allowed on a repatriation flight” – before revealing one passenger was found to be positive after the flight landed.
“Three individuals travelled with this passenger,” said Dr Minnis – but they were not alone. A total of 51 of those – including the infected passenger – disembarked at Freeport. The remaining 44 continued to New Providence. That total, you’ll notice, is 95, not 183, and that’s where a lack of clear speaking doesn’t help. Rather than saying outright there were two planes, it leaves people to work things out.
When Dr Minnis said three individuals travelled with this passenger, it turns out they were a family, three of them having produced a negative test result. They showed up at the Bahamasair counter on Friday despite not being on the list to travel. Dr Minnis did not mention that in his national address.
Bahamasair had a list of passengers due to fly – initially 190. Apparently, when these four showed up, Bahamasair contacted the Consulate General’s office who said their list did have the family’s names on – and Bahamasair duly added them to the manifest. Two different lists left a gap that meant that an infected person could get on the plane.
When Dr Sands spoke to the nation about the decision that ultimately led to his resignation, he said two people had entered the country. It turned out to be six people, not two. Somewhere, a lack of clear communication ended up with a minister not knowing how many people had just been let into the country. A lack of clear communication in this new case ended up with an infected passenger on board a plane carrying 95 people.
The outcome of this is at least a temporary end to repatriation flights. Bahamians abroad will have to wait a little longer because of someone’s decision to put this family on the flight.
We hope that decision will not result in the spread of more cases. The good news is that passengers on the flights wore PPE gear, and all passengers going into quarantine afterwards reduces the risk of carrying it further – but that’s cleaning up the mess afterwards rather than avoiding it to begin with.
The concerns are not just effective communication to the public – although Dr Minnis spoke for more than 50 minutes in his national address to make clear what happened, and the Consul General has yet to speak on the subject. It is also effective communication within government to be able to make the right decisions – and to eliminate the grey areas that can lead to problems.
These are the things that the resignation ought to have taught us – and it is clear that we still have a distance to go.
Kicking down doors and making The Bahamas proud
The Bahamas can be proud indeed of one of its sons.
Nicholas Johnson has been named the first black valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020. He’s the son of a Bahamian doctor, Dr Dexter Johnson, who practises in Ottawa, Canada.
Speaking to The Tribune, Dr Johnson’s pride shone through as he talked of his Cat Island roots, growing up in Arthur’s Town and going to St Anne’s High School.
He said his son’s accomplishment was a great story for a country like ours and that it could inspire others to strive for greatness – all the more remarkable for him being the first black man in Princeton’s history to receive the honour.
He said: “Bahamians are very proud people and it’s just great to know that it took one of our own to finally kick that door down after 274 years.”
It already inspired former First Lady Michelle Obama to share Nicholas’ story with the world on Twitter, congratulating him and saying how as a Princeton alum she was so proud of him. We’ll let her have the last word, with which we can only agree: “I have a feeling this is just the beginning for you, and I cannot wait to see everything you continue to achieve.”