TO say that there are mixed messages over the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in The Bahamas would be an understatement.
In recent days, officials have expressed hope of finding a way of avoiding the pain of the quarantine to be introduced for all travellers to the United States.
We also reported recently on how The Bahamas is one of just 27 countries that have tamed the COVID-19 pandemic according to more than 4,000 scientists and community organisers worldwide.
In mid-January, it was reported that the Christmas holiday celebrations had not seen an uptick of cases of COVID-19 as officials had initially expected.
And yet, yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said it appeared that Bahamians had let their guards down in the battle against COVID-19.
He said this as emergency orders were once again extended – and it seems contradictory to be appealing to the US over how safe it would be to allow arrivals from The Bahamas to bypass quarantine protocols while extending the emergency orders for months and having the Prime Minister warn that people are letting their guard down against the virus.
Which is it? Are we safer than we were or on a downward slide?
The Prime Minister took the opportunity to speak out against funerals and Junkanoo parades that have broken protocols – though there have been a number of cases of gatherings that broke the rules over the months, from weddings to funerals and other gatherings. After one wedding highlighted in this newspaper, the attendees were visited by the police and issued tickets. The solution is right there – break the rules, pay the price. If people know they won’t get away with hosting an event that breaks the rules, they’ll think twice. If they think all they’ll get is a tut tut and we must do better, then plenty will go right ahead, ignoring the real consequences of how many people will go home afterwards with an unwanted guest, the virus that has found a new host and will continue to spread.
In today’s Tribune, we report on Atlantis bringing back furloughs for staff in the face of the US quarantine order. Every person that attends one of these events and might prompt the spread of the virus further keeps those doors closed longer. A party for a day might mean someone else out of a job for life. Or worse, lose their life.
That said, the government needs to be clearer with its message. People need to know the path we are on. Those who break the rules need to be dealt with accordingly, certainly, but we also need to know the level of risk we are really facing.
Dr Minnis might say that the extension of the emergency powers doesn’t mean that the powers will actually be used, just that it gives the government the ability to do so if needed – but they have been used every time they’ve been extended so far and while there’s talk of a “light at the end”, that end seems very distant right now.
It seems impossible to make an appeal to the US while telling our own citizens things are too dangerous to lift the restrictions right now – yet that’s where we are.
Where do we go from here? Well, it depends which story of how well we are doing we are to believe.
A vital jab
Talk continues to circulate about the COVID-19 vaccine being a personal choice – and while there absolutely is a discussion to be had about personal liberty, what we’re missing is the other half of the conversation.
The vaccine will only be effective if it has a high take-up rate. Back in December, Dr Anthony Fauci, one of the top experts in the world and an advisor to both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, talked of a need for around 70 to 75 percent to gain herd immunity. What’s herd immunity? That’s the number of people with immunity that ensures the virus can’t get a grip on a population. Think of it this way. If one person has the virus, and only half of those around them are vaccinated, the virus has a 50-50 chance of jumping to someone who can become infected. The higher the number who are vaccinated, the smaller the chance the virus has of jumping – and each time that number becomes smaller, it makes it more likely the virus peters out.
With polio, that threshold is about 80 percent. Those are the numbers – or even higher – of the population of The Bahamas that we need to be vaccinated to squash this virus. That includes everyone – Bahamians, legal migrants, illegal migrants. The virus doesn’t stop to check your passport.
So while there is talk of the vaccine being voluntary, we really need to talk about how essential it is for people to take a safe, tested vaccine.
Without a vaccine, it means... no travel, no tourism, businesses shutting down, no jobs, an economic crash, and a future that never gets better.
So take the jab, and don’t listen to the social media doubters. Listen to the scientists. They’re the experts, we should trust them.