By MALCOLM STRACHAN
JUST a mere six days from now, we will be taking our second crack at reopening the tourism sector. Here it is, COVID-19 cases are surging with no flattening of the curve in sight, despite the reinstitution of stricter containment measures.
While some citizens are following health protocols such as mask-wearing, good hygiene and social distancing, others refuse to heed the constant warnings from the experts. Take into account how struggling businesses whose operations do not fit well with the recommended curbside models, together with the reality that this pandemic has a lot more mileage left to go, and we can agree we’re in a giant heap of trouble.
Thus, it is with much apprehension and trepidation that we may be welcoming tourists on November 1. It’s a Catch-22 of sorts. We know we need the tourism injection - or an injection of any sort - into our economy, but with our public health system in crisis, we are not ready to handle what may be at stake.
Nor could we find comfort in the policymakers who weighed the cost and decided this was the way forward – especially when considering our 21 percent positivity rate being four times higher than what has been advised by the World Health Organization.
This is a difficult balancing act, but sometimes it is best to know when it’s time to get up from the blackjack table and walk away.
We are simply not ready yet. And as these sentiments have been echoed by some local health officials, it is discouraging in more ways than one why such prudent advice is being ignored. For one, it indicates to us how desperate we are for any kind of income. Like a gambler that ran through a string of bad hands, we are hoping – praying - that we will be able to win it all back, or at the very least, stop the bleeding for a period of time.
Further, we ask ourselves the question - “What if?” What if we hadn’t opened prematurely in July? What if we didn’t allow citizens to fly to hotspots in the US without proper measures being in place for their return? Those mistakes will be firmly etched in the history books.
Without a reopening plan that reflects the fluidity of the state of affairs and addresses not just our economic needs but also our health infrastructure challenges, it may be eerily ironic that the reopening is a day after Halloween. COVID-19 has indeed been a nightmare for our country, along with many others around the world. However, you can’t help but feel frustrated that we should have been doing better than this.
With the healthcare system bloated to the point of explosion, we are all rooting for the government to play its hand well.
When we hear Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest discuss the possibility of unemployment benefits decreasing to $75 per week, on one hand, you can certainly credit the government for not wanting to leave its people behind. But at the same time as that heavy feeling sinks into your gut, you are certain that we are in trouble when we consider the thousands of Bahamians who aren’t even getting that much on a weekly basis.
With the majority of cases coming in what has been our second wave - and lockdowns and curfews proving ineffective in flattening the curve this time around - we have yet been able to figure out how to balance reopening the economy with the proper management of our public health system. If we can be honest with ourselves, who would want to travel in large numbers to a COVID-19 hotspot? And while we may be banking on there being a courageous few, our most prominent resorts are being much more conservative as their doors remain firmly closed while the pandemic is still raging.
The country’s focus must be on widespread testing which is free and accessible to all Bahamians. Bahamians having to scrounge up a couple hundred dollars for a COVID test, which they may not even have, juxtaposed with the high levels of unemployment is just simply impractical.
And without any rhyme or reason to locking the country down to supposedly get ready for another half-hearted tourism opening, one can’t help but wonder if any of this makes sense.
The cost being levied on citizens is far too great. And as we simultaneously are not helping ourselves in a densely populated New Providence, it would seem as though we are on the verge of exacerbating already difficult circumstances even further.
As we’ve noted before, desperation lays waste to measured thinking.
The science doesn’t support us opening right now.
And soon enough, if we move ahead in this state of unpreparedness, the proof will be laid bare for the world to see.