26 August 2020
Bahamians are getting whiplashed trying to follow the government’s COVID-19 policies. One week it is broadcasted that the situation is so deadly serious that not only is a total lockdown justified, it needed to be imposed without warning, no matter how many people were left without food or water.
Just a week later, case counts are still very high, but now the Prime Minister is somehow in happy talk mode.
Bahamians remain very worried about the virus, and rightly so.
It is important for all Bahamians to understand that the Dashboard is very substantially undercounting the actual number of COVID cases in The Bahamas.
As many as 40% of people who have COVID — and can transmit COVID to other people — do not have any symptoms whatsoever. Now consider that the government is only testing symptomatic persons, not everyone whom their contact tracing determines has been exposed to a COVID-positive patient.
For all the cases we see listed, there are many other people with the virus not included in the count — people who do not know they have the virus. These people deserve a test, so they know one way or another and can act accordingly. It is a serious hardship for most Bahamians to isolate themselves from family and from their places of work. Many won’t do it in the absence of a positive test result.
This Task Force has repeatedly called for a more substantial expansion in testing. As we have said for months, testing is the only way to make an invisible virus visible.
The way the government’s Dashboard is presenting data does not allow the public to calculate the positivity rate. Why is that important? The positivity rate – the share of tests returning a positive result – allows all of us to see for ourselves whether as a country we are making progress, standing still, or backsliding.
According to the World Health Organization, a positive rate of less than 5% is one indicator that the COVID epidemic is under control in a country. No matter how you slice and dice the data in The Bahamas, we are far, far above that.
We call on the government to begin publishing the nation’s positivity rate on the Dashboard.
We note, too, that the release of the Dashboard has become erratic — released at 2a.m.,then a day skipped, then released at 11:45p.m. The most valuable resource any government has during a public health crisis is trust, yet the government is not behaving as if the trust of Bahamians is important to them. These inconsistencies, in conjunction with the multiple about-faces on the lockdowns, have worked to erode public trust in the government’s handling of the virus.
Trust has also been undermined by the recent admission that there have been significant errors in the data itself. We understand that mistakes can happen, but why has it taken so many months before these errors were corrected? The decisions that are being made on the basis of this data affect the life of every single person in The Bahamas. People have to be confident that the information is accurate.
Confidence in the competence of the government is already weak, given the fact that, in a Global Index measuring the recovery of the world’s nations from COVID-19, The Bahamas continues to rank last, 184th out of 184 nations.
1. The PLP Task Force Welcomes the Lifting of Restrictions on Many Businesses
The PLP Task Force welcomes the lifting of restrictions on many businesses. Many of those restrictions made no sense in the first place and seemed designed to punish Bahamians rather than stop the spread of the virus.
We note, too, that a very large percent of the exposures to the virus have occurred in workplaces overseen or heavily regulated by the government: the police force, the defence force, the healthcare sector, government offices. The government has been so busy micro-managing small Bahamian businesses and entrepreneurs that they neglected to make safe the workplaces they themselves control. The control of the virus spread is the responsibility of individuals as businesses open. As businesses reopen, the business owners have the responsibility to ensure the safety of their customers. The owners must ensure that the customers are adhering to the mask rule, and social distancing. As a consumer the community has the responsibility to protect themselves and others.
2. The Health Crisis and the Economic Crisis Cannot Be Separated
We as the Opposition, have for many months called for an expansion of the Competent Authority, a significant expansion of testing and tracing, more transparency, more support for doctors and nurses, and sound policies based on data and science, not on politics.
As he has emphasized, there is no way to fix the economic crisis without first successfully managing the health crisis. We encourage Bahamians to go out and buy local and stimulate the economy. In addition to larger vendors, the local community must also support the smaller businesses that have been closed due to the pandemic.