“Get vaccinated and be very careful because this is a deadly disease; it comes to steal, kill and destroy.” – Giovanni Hanchell, Inagua resident.
THE next COVID-19 surge is coming. Though it is not certain when the next wave will strike New Providence and Grand Bahama, or how severe it will be, another surge is certain. The country should begin preparing for the upcoming wave, now.
We have a long way to go in this pandemic. It appears that many Bahamians, including some leaders, still do not appreciate the gravity and how long the pandemic is likely to last.
Donald Trump calculated that he could publicly disassociate himself from the peril. He was wrong. It backfired, politically and ethically.
There are worrying outbreaks in various Family Islands. This past Wednesday, Eyewitness News reported that as of Sunday, October 17, Inagua had 50 COVID-19 cases, “double the 25 cases confirmed up to last month”.
The Eyewitness News website quoted Giovanni Hanchell, a resident of Inagua who lost a cousin to the disease. Hanchell stated that more restrictions were needed on the island to control the disease. He spoke of the horror of the disease: “It will not hurt you or impact you until it reaches your doorsteps.
“On the island, everybody feels the death of the person… If it hasn’t impacted you yet, it will impact you in some way, some form and some fashion. Just be protected, guard yourself [and] practice safeness.
“We are doing our best to try to regroup and try to just come back from what’s going on. We have never experienced anything with such large deaths in such a short time.
“If the government locked Inagua down, it may have helped in a way. I feel like more restrictions will help us out, but if it cannot be administered at this time, then we just have to do what we have to do by ourselves.”
The deaths in the country are tragically measured in the number of obituaries now published in the broadsheets of the dailies, sometimes doubling the size of the Thursday editions.
Pandemics often end through brutal natural selection! Those who refuse to get vaccinated in The Bahamas, especially the morbidly obese and those with underlying conditions, are highly likely to contract the virus and possibly die.
Some will take the wrong lesson from the death of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died this week from complications from the disease. Mr Powell, an 84-year-old who was fully vaccinated, was battling a form of cancer which left him highly immune-compromised. He was due to have a booster shot.
At home, households are tragically experiencing multiple deaths. Those who deem themselves healthy, including those who brag about being fit, taking their vitamins and eating well, are playing a foolish game by waiting or refusing to be vaccinated.
There is still much that is not known about the disease, with some young, healthy and fully vaccinated individuals becoming gravely ill or dying, confounding medical experts who are rushing to understand why such individuals have succumbed to the virus and its variants.
A number of journals have reported the death of 21-year-old Shawn Kuhn, a senior at the University of Georgia in the United States, who died this past Monday of COVID-19 based pneumonia.
After battling for six weeks, the fully vaccinated fitness enthusiast and instructor died. Such cases are rare. But it highlights the insidiousness of the disease.
With the virus still mutating, the vaccine-resistant are engaged in a bizarre game of suicidal Russian roulette, tempting the virus to break through their fortresses of psychological resistance ranging from fear and anxiety to hubris and arrogance to indifference and equivocation.
Many will die because social media and its tsunami of lies, disinformation and misinformation have paralysed the uncertain, who opt for inaction, incapable of discerning fact from fiction and pseudoscience from genuine science.
Those medical professionals who remain unvaccinated and those who are anti-vaxxers continue to mystify. Their poor example confuses the poorly informed who take their cues from them, often leading to terrible outcomes.
The highest rate of death in the world from COVID-19 is Latin America and the Caribbean, where more than 2.1 million have died so far. According to The Economist, the region has also experienced the steepest economic decline, with output dropping by seven percent in 2020.
The history of pandemics is instructive and frightening. Appreciating the history and lethality of pandemics can help to save lives. We remain in one of history’s great pandemics. Tens of millions more may die, with many more deaths in The Bahamas.
The smug ignorance and lack of knowledge of history by policymakers, including public officers and politicians, commentators and media personalities, as well as academics, is troubling at the best of times in The Bahamas.
COVID has further exposed the general and self-satisfied ignorance of opinion leaders and others across our civic spectrum who often distract from the gravity of the times with feverish and empty commentaries on irrelevancies.
Pandemics, like COVID-19 and the global cholera outbreak of the 1830s, deepen economic and social inequality. The Industrial Revolution drew many poor and working class labourers to Paris, where they lived in dire conditions in densely-packed slums, including impoverished areas near Notre Dame Cathedral.
The works of Honoré de Balzac, and Victor Hugo, who authored Les Misérables, the historical novel and masterpiece on social injustice, captured the desperate poverty, gross inequality and squalor of the period in the French capital.
In poorer areas, cholera, a bacterial infection, spread because of poor sanitation, ignorance and indifference from authorities. Wealthy Parisians fled the “City of Lights” as the disease ravaged the poor.
Tensions mounted. Conspiracy theories spread as furiously as the disease, with the rich blaming the poor, while poorer Parisians believed they were being poisoned by the rich.
Anger at the government reached a fever pitch. The monarch and his court were pilloried, quickly reaping the disfavour of the populace. In a few short months in 1832, the disease killed 100,000 people in France.
Lessons from past
According to the essay, “What History Has Taught Us About Epidemics” on the Caltech website, approximately 20,000 Parisians died in one month. The population of Paris in 1831 stood at approximately 785,000.
There were several lessons for political leaders during this outbreak, including the need to communicate consistently and effectively with frightened communities, and the need for clear plans and the best scientific advice. Have we learned these lessons?
One million people may have died from the Russian flu at the end of the 19th century. Some thought that this flu may have been caused by a coronavirus. The 1918 global flu killed approximately 50 million people in just a few years. Public authorities should study these pandemics. They ignore profound lessons at our collective peril.
With COVID-19, the state of the pandemic is uneven globally, with deaths depending on the number of people vaccinated in various jurisdictions. Approximately 119,000 people or about 30 percent of our population is fully vaccinated, a fairly good rate for a developing, archipelagic country.
Barbados, which started vaccinating before The Bahamas, has vaccinated just over 40 percent of residents.
A recent edition of The Economist offered: “All pandemics end eventually. COVID-19 has started down that path and will gradually become endemic. In that state, circulating and mutating from year to year, the coronavirus will remain a threat to the elderly and infirm.
“Though the destination is fixed, the route to endemicity is not and… we argue that the difference between a well-planned journey and a chaotic one could be measured in millions of lives.
“The end of the pandemic is therefore a last chance for governments to show they have learned from the mistakes they made at its start.” What are the lessons we must learn and the actions we must take in The Bahamas?
One lesson: the politicisation of a pandemic may win votes but it does not save lives, including the lives of those who may vote for a Trump or a Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.
Based on countries with higher rates of vaccination of approximately 80 percent, The Bahamas will need to vaccinate 320,000 people in our population of approximately 400,000.
Last Saturday, Russia reported a staggering and record 1,002 COVID deaths. It was the first time since the onset of the pandemic that daily deaths passed 1,000. This is in contrast to countries with higher vaccination rates that are experiencing fewer deaths at this stage of the pandemic.
A report from October 16, also confirmed that in the previous 24 hours the country had 33,208 cases, “setting a record for the fifth consecutive day.”
Reuters reported: “Russian authorities blame a slow vaccination campaign for the sharp rise of infections and deaths, which forced the health ministry this week to ask retired vaccinated medics to return to hospitals.”
For a variety of reasons, Russians have been notoriously hesitant to get vaccinated, which is going to result in many more deaths and terrible waves. In The Bahamas, we will need vaccine requirements and mandates to get more Bahamians vaccinated. Even countries with 50 percent of people vaccinated are going through hell.
Despite our death toll, the punishing effects of the Delta variant and more waves on the way, a good number of Bahamians and residents will continue to refuse to get vaccinated.
Compounding this is the need for booster shots for the country, including the large percentage of people requiring such shots fairly soon, such as older individuals, and those with pre-existing conditions and the high number of obese Bahamians.
In between waves and during surges, we should utilise restrictions on larger gathering, bars and nightclubs and other venues which may help spread the virus. Regulating mass events is vital.
Vaccines are our way back to greater normalcy. We do not want to be in a forever pandemic. As the pandemic continues, we will need stronger action from public authorities, and more people getting vaccinated. If we do not act responsibly as a society, the season of suffering and death may worsen considerably and horribly.