The COVID-19 Response: Politics or "Politricks"
Updated: May 27, 2020
Amid a steady rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, the question must be asked – are the measures being taken by the Minnis administration working? When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in The Bahamas on March 15, the government sprang into action. Under the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Order, 2020, a nightly curfew and the shutdown of all non-essential businesses and organizations, public transportation and commercial sailing were implemented while all major events were cancelled. Fines and/or jail time were implemented as a deterrent to any would-be violators. Since then, amendment after amendment has been made to those initial orders to introduce 24-hour curfews, a short-lived alphabetized shopping schedule, weekend lockdowns, further restrictions on movement for the general public and the inclusion of a number of businesses to the essential category to allow for their reopening. Now, nearly two months since that first case was confirmed, The Bahamas has reported 11 deaths, hundreds are in quarantine due to exposure or the possibility of exposure, and the number of confirmed cases is approaching the double digits. It has led some to question whether government’s measures are as effective as officials may have hoped. A point of contention between the government and opposition was the decision to allow more businesses to reopen despite an increase in confirmed cases. Progressive Liberal Party leader Philip Davis called it “a study in confusion.” “The country remains in the middle of a COVID-19 surge so it was confusing that the prime minister announced the opening up of additional businesses and the domestic economy well ahead of any indication of a leveling of the COVID-19 infection and transmission curve. What is the rationale for this decision?” he asked. Davis added, “We are sure the public is relieved that there is a slow return to normalcy but there has to be some idea of what this is based upon and that it is evidence-driven.” Another concern was the length of time it took to bring Bahamians stranded abroad back home. For weeks, the opposition called on the Minnis Administration to open the borders to hundreds of Bahamians stuck in foreign countries. It was a request government officials repeatedly denied, arguing the borders must remain closed to stop the further spread of coronavirus. However, in late April, the decision was made to bring those Bahamians back home. In a communication in the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said, “Mr. Speaker, I can say we are bringing our people home.” He added, “We are finalizing plans to bring those individuals home. Mr. Speaker, I advise all those individuals who want to travel home that they should contact the consul general in Miami, so they can be informed as to when they would be brought home.” Days later, news broke that then Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands allowed six permanent residents to disembark in New Providence after they had donated hundreds of test swabs to the country. The Americans were tested for COVID-19 upon their arrival and allowed to quarantine at home. It drew the ire of those Bahamians stuck abroad and Davis. “From day one, I’ve been complaining about the abdication of their responsibility to look after our citizens. From day one, I’ve continued crying to let our people come home and this is home,” said Davis. He added, “They are in what they call foreign land. It just tells you now that rules for this government seem to apply to special interest entities or groups other than to us, the ordinary Bahamians.” 190 Bahamians stuck in South Florida returned to the Bahamas on May 8 during the first phase of an exercise conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of those residents took to social media to document their less-than-ideal living accommodations, sparking national debate on whether they were simply being ungrateful or deserved the same five-star treatment as the Americans who “blindsided” the former Minister of Health when they requested to disembark yet were allowed to quarantine in the comfort of their homes. The prime minister has gone on record to say that this is not the time for politics and he is open to any suggestions from the opposition. Among the suggestions submitted by the opposition were an aggressive push for random widespread testing, the use of defense force vessels as intermediate healthcare facilities for the northern and southern family islands where proper hospitals with adequate resources are lacking, the creation and offer of a cellphone screening app that could be used to track individuals in self-quarantine at home, and the establishment of a “hotel-like” facility with a cafeteria and adequate amenities to be used as government quarantine housing for those self-isolating due to infection. Health officials have now opted to go the route of wider testing. A new app to monitor those who are asked to self-isolate and ensure they are doing just that is reportedly being currently tested. Though the country reportedly received thousands of tests, fewer than two thousand tests have been carried out. Minnis said, “Our response as a country, as a people, must be unified. I have already consulted with the Leader of the Opposition on this crisis. I pledge to keep the Leader of the Opposition informed of the Government’s response. And I hope that if he has ideas, he would share them with me so they can be presented in our policy discussions. This is not a time for partisanship. We must work to save lives. We must work to keep people healthy. We must work to preserve our economy. Bahamians do not want to see their leaders attacking each other in a crisis.” Opposition sources claim the Minnis administration continues to effectively shut them out of the process despite the prime minister’s appeal for the two sides to work together. Is the PLP playing politics or is the Minnis administration up to politricks?