Nassau

Do we have an exit strategy?

The current state of emergency and the ensuing emergency orders issued since March have almost certainly saved lives, but they have also taken an excruciating, incalculable toll on Bahamians.

Aside from the negative economic implications, which cannot be overstated, there is the emotional impact.

Many have gone months without being in the presence of close family members.

Many have had to remain in close contact with abusive family members, with the added factor of financial strain heightening tensions.

There are those who have had to endure all this alone.

Children have been unable to associate with their friends.

Graduations are taking place virtually, without family celebrations, making arduous journeys of learning feel anti-climactic.

There will be no proms for thousands of students – a rite of passage for many, foregone.

Weddings have been postponed.

Loved ones have been unable to attend funerals of cherished family and friends.

Church members have been unable to fellowship in person, and many traditions central to the faith of many, such as The Eucharist, have not happened in months.

Thousands who concentrate on physical fitness have been unable to work out at gyms.

Beaches, which Bahamians particularly love, have been shuttered even on the most beautiful of days.

And there is the societal impact.

Many legal cases have been suspended, while many courts closed, delaying justice.

A cold chill continues to run down the spine of those who would not have their civil liberties consolidated unchecked in the hands of one individual.

Our law enforcement officers have essentially been pitted against the regularly law-abiding public, arresting people for petty infractions of the new orders.

Humans are social animals; we tend to flock together in great groups to share experiences.

People are becoming tired of the lockdowns, eager to resume their routines and earn a living, despite the limited short-term prospects.

There appears to be a growing sentiment that the government acted wisely in shutting down the country and instituting lockdowns, but distrust is starting to set in.

There does not appear to be a coherent strategy to move us from one “phase” of economic reopening to the other, or for the restoration of our basic freedoms.

We have said much in this space about the chaotic nature in which the emergency orders have been amended and the lack of apparent logic and planning in many of the decisions made by the competent authority since March.

Though many choices made by authorities around the world have been fraught with uncertainty since this pandemic began, this has been going on long enough to have thought this all through.

In the absence of a vaccine, the options are to remain in lockdown or devise a strategy to emerge from it as safely as possible.

However, if we do not reopen sooner, rather than later, the effects of the lockdowns could become more difficult to manage than those of the disease for society at large.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that countries that end lockdowns should have COVID-19 transmission under control to the point where new cases are sporadic and reduced to a level that the healthcare system can manage; sufficient public health workforce and health system capacities should be in place to enable a shift from detection and treatment to detection and isolation; outbreak risks in high-vulnerability settings should be minimized with appropriate measures in place to maximize physical distancing and minimize the risk of new outbreaks; preventive measures should be established in workplaces; there should be management of the risk of exporting cases from and importing cases into communities at high risk of transmission; and communities should be fully engaged and educated to understand that preventive measures to reduce transmission would be maintained, and that all people have key roles to play in preventing a resurgence in cases.

The public has yet to understand where we are with any of these goals, and, indeed, what the specific goal posts are for The Bahamas.

This is a failure of communication, a critical component of crisis management.

Improving testing is what the United Nations refers to as the “zero-regret” option for countries ending lockdowns.

This option involves the rapid scale-up of testing to give greater clarity to the geographic extent and growth of COVID-19.

What our government is doing, like the United States, is a gradual, segmented reopening.

This involves gradually opening up certain regions and businesses, using curfews and limiting lockdowns to certain hours.

The United Nations calls this a “medium-regret” option, as many models indicate this route could quickly see infections spread again.

With the reliance of our economy on visitors from the United States, particularly Florida and New York, the risk of infections spreading again and rising and repeating the current process, is high.

With a population as small as ours, testing capacity should be our chosen exit strategy.

However, the Ministry of Health has yet to conduct widespread testing, despite promises to do so.

And, according to the ministry’s daily COVID-19 dashboard, it is not ramping up testing capacity.

We need a structured, date-specific end to the lockdowns while shoring up our public health system and putting temporary measures in place to assure social distancing in public and proper education on hygiene, while plotting a road map to economic security.

Uncertainty is not an option.

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