By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Grand Bahama businesses yesterday urged the government to block Bahamians travelling to Florida to prevent another island-wide COVID-19 lockdown.
Greg Langstaff, owner of the Grand Bahama Brewing Company, told Tribune Business: “Unfortunately, just locking it down in Grand Bahama is not going to be enough. I think if they want to contain it, they have to be way more aggressive, and he [the prime minister] needs to stop Bahamians from going on trips to Florida.
“If a Bahamian said that they are going to go to Wuhan, China, and come back, or if they would have said six months ago that they want to go to Italy, we would have an issue. But the new epicentre of this pandemic in the United States is in Florida and Miami-Dade.”
Mr Langstaff spoke out as three new COVID-19 cases were reported on Grand Bahama yesterday, taking the total to 13 detected in just over a week - a development that is making many businesses and residents fearful another economically-devastating island-wide lockdown may be imposed by the Government.
Acknowledging the difficulty of banning all local travel to and from Florida while the economy opens up, he said: “Lockdown has people going nuts, but I think we pretty much have to. Unfortunately, when you take a look at the US Coast Guard bringing cases of the COVID-19 here to The Bahamas as well, that was startling. So, I don’t know how to manage it and I don’t have an answer. I know what’s happening, but I don’t think there is an alternative aside from a lockdown.”
Mr Langstaff endorsed wearing masks in public and hand sanitisation, but said the previously-abandoned shopping list initiative “backfired” as it did not help with social distancing and was a “horrible idea” that created long lines of people standing together.
“Businesses are barely open now. Here is the real question: At what cost do they open up?,” he added. “We don’t have a hospital. We have some tents, and they are working at putting the electrical work in now. Ten months after Hurricane Dorian and they are just now putting in electrical work. They are working 12-hour shifts at seven days a week, but just now they are putting in electrical work?
“So we don’t have a hospital, and to open up businesses at the cost of how many lives? Grand Bahama has been struggling now for 15 years, since Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, which this island never recovered from, and it has only just barely been kicking over.
“If they shut us down again there is going to be a cost for social programmes just so people can eat. Unfortunately, I’m more interested in the necessities of life for everybody right now and quality of life.”
Brent Collins, Power Equipment’s chief executive, added: “I don’t see how we can take another lockdown, but if we have to we will because we have been through far worseand I think we will figure it out somehow.
“I really don’t know what the Government is doing from one day to the next, and I’m tired of getting upset about it. I just have to focus on what I have to do. I heard the rumours that they were going to lock us down from last week, so I already made up my mind that they might do it.”
Responding to concerns that a lockdown may cause more business failures in Grand Bahama, Mr Collins said: “If it is two weeks, I hope not. I see a bunch of new businesses opening up, so I really hope two weeks isn’t enough to mess up someone’s business.
“But if they continue to do it and keep extending it without anyone knowing what is going on, then you might have the possibility that people are going to get frustrated and say ‘screw it’.” Two weeks isn’t that much compared to what we have already gone through with three months of lockdown, so if they are going to do it for two weeks a lot of the people might take it as a way to take a break and take a vacation.”
Mr Collins also said he “wished they didn’t allow” travel between Florida to The Bahamas just yet, and added: “I have no issues with the people coming from Nassau, but everything in Freeport was calm and as soon as Western Air started to make flights to and from Nassau to Freeport, all of a sudden two weeks later cases started popping up.
“COVID-19 cases can come from Nassau or Freeport; it could be from anywhere. You just don’t know who is coming in from Nassau and coming to Freeport. They don’t have to be Bahamian. People don’t necessarily have to come straight to Freeport to cause a problem.
“I just hope they don’t have to implement the lockdown. I have a lot of projects in the pipeline, and if they lockdown again I can’t keep schedule and I can’t get my shipments in on time, but otherwise they are going to do whatever it is they want to do anyway.”