WE have written before in this column of the need to extend aid as each deadline for its cut-off has drawn near – and it is encouraging to see we are not alone in recognising the need.
Philip Smith is the executive director for the Bahamas Feeding Network. Over the past months, his team has been on the front line, dealing with people who have nothing and giving them the food they need to survive.
There is perhaps no one in this country more closely connected to the need being experienced every day by so many Bahamians.
He has called for the National Food Distribution Task Force’s programme to be extended again – this time until September.
“The monies that were provided take us to the end of this month, which is another week or so, so it is my understanding that we will hear something this week from the government as to whether they will extend it or not,” he said, adding: “But from my standpoint, I think we probably need to go at least until the end of September, because I would think (we would have to reach) the end of September before we really begin to see some normalcy coming back into play.”
That makes a lot of sense. The key to getting back to normal is vaccinations – and while the rollout of those has started, we are a long way from getting enough vaccines in the country to vaccinate everyone. We’re starting with the healthcare workers and elderly, which will protect lives of those most at risk, but actually getting back to normal and a functioning tourism economy will need more doses. They’re not here yet – and the return of tourism in full force will come with that. Until it does, there will remain a need to help all those who make their money from tourism, directly or indirectly.
It’s not easy – the government needs to find the money from somewhere in order to keep it going, and there are precious few ways to do that with the economy as it is – as can be seen by the increased borrowing by the government.
But this is a matter quite literally of life and death. People need food in their bellies to survive, and that is what this programme – and people such as Phillip Smith and his colleagues – are achieving. They’re keeping people alive.
Pushing the date back to September lets people know they will have food next week, next month and ongoing until the country is back on its feet.
We’re not there yet, and people still need the help. Give them the certainty they need to go with it. Give them a reason to believe.
Speaking of the tourism economy, there is a great deal of sense in Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar’s call for tourism industry workers to be prioritised in receiving the vaccine.
That would increase the speed with which we can reopen our hotels, resorts and attractions to tourists, which in turn would boost the economy.
It would start putting money back in the government coffers too – perhaps enough to pay for the food programme for those in need, while at the same time reducing the number of people dependent on that programme as they got back into jobs and could pay their own way.
How crucial are those vaccinations to reopening? Look no further than Royal Caribbean’s plans to resume sailings - with the requirement that all crew, and all passengers, be vaccinated before embarking. That move brings the confidence of minimising the risk for those travelling.
We do not envy the task of those deciding who gets to go first, and who has to wait. Often, those who are younger and healthier and therefore at less risk of complications from COVID-19 might also be the ones who are more at risk of exposure in the places they live and work. There’s no straightforward solution and no magic way to keep everyone happy – at least, not until there are enough doses for us all.
But we need to think about the approach that will best help the country as a whole, while protecting those of us who are most at risk. It’s a fine balance – but we are encouraged that there are conversations about the best way forward.
The more people who are vaccinated, the greater the protection for everyone – but choosing a way that gets the nation’s economic engine firing at full speed again will also help us all.