By MALCOLM STRACHAN
AS the nation has watched the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, go from a “foreign virus” that spread through Wuhan, China, with epic speed, inch closer and closer to our shores, it has been unsettling to see it reach 118 countries to date. No doubt, any nation still reeling from the disastrous impact of Hurricane Dorian would have citizens gripped by fear.
Nonetheless, there is a point in between fear and preparation where we must realise that over-reacting may do more to harm us than help us.
We can definitely argue that a global border shutdown at the onset may have allowed those already infected in China to go through quarantine and hopefully they would have all recovered allowing the world to dodge a gigantic bullet. Unfortunately, that is not today’s conversation. Since the World Health Organisation last week made the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, would-haves, could-haves and should-haves have all been tossed out of the window.
We can only look at what we can do now. And for each country, that has to make sense.
For The Bahamas, a nation dependent on international tourism, we are certainly in a vulnerable position. With one of our major source markets being levelled by the spread of the virus, the WHO’s declaration happened at the right time.
Likewise, cancellations and suspensions of major sporting events and seasons, as celebrities and government leaders contract the virus too – The Bahamas is able to react in an environment that is becoming more controlled as other countries tighten up their borders.
This much was seen last week, as a ship carrying five individuals infected with COVID-19 was not allowed to dock at its final destination in Barbados. Subsequently, this ship was also refused docking in The Bahamas by the ministry of transport in a decisive act to prevent the spread of the virus in our country.
Though decisions like this are what we want to see, we also must not take for granted, being a tourism-based economy depending heavily on imports, escaping this crisis entirely.
Health Minister Dr Duane Sands intimated as much last week when he spoke to local media.
Providing his best estimate, Dr Sands said: “The worst case scenario, let’s say is Wuhan, China, where there have been 80,000 cases. Wuhan has a population of about 15 million, but if we say out of the Chinese population of 1.4 billion…that maybe 80 million people contributed to that 80,000 cases and then you extrapolate to the population of The Bahamas which is 400,000 people.
“Doing that arithmetic, you would get a worst-case scenario of some 400 cases in The Bahamas. Now we also know that out those 400 cases, 80 percent of people don’t even know they have it, okay. That’s four out of every five… 10 percent of people wind up with serious infection and wind up in hospital and about five percent of people wind up critically ill.
“So even if we have a Wuhan-like scenario in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, we’re looking at hospitalised, potentially less than 100 people and the Intensive Care Unit, deaths, etc worst-case scenario based on the Wuhan scenario even less.”
Certainly, other factors come into play. Population density, personal hygiene, pre-existing health conditions, healthcare system capacity and measures taken to stem the spread of the virus once the first case is detected – all play significant roles, the latter of which have been key factors in China finally being able to slow down the spread of disease.
Some of the larger question marks for us are twofold. From the government side of things, what contingencies are being put in place to support our healthcare system? We just witnessed its crippling in Hurricane Dorian. While the types of needs will be different, of course, the government is hopefully making the best of the lead time it has. And to be fair, by all of their indications, they have continuously told the Bahamian people that they have been getting ready for weeks.
We can only hope that when it is time to show and prove it that stable hands are at the wheel.
The other piece that determines how we will get through this depends on the people – the citizens of The Bahamas. As we have become a nation far removed from a collective society, the penchant to only look out for “number one” will cause unspeakable heartache if we cannot see beyond such selfishness.
Not if, but when the coronavirus reaches our shores, it will be incumbent on every citizen to think of their fellow Bahamian. We will have to love the elderly and practice good hygiene. We will have to take care of each other in that way and inform ourselves with qualified knowledge from the experts.
Running to be the first to spread misinformation only results in widespread pandemonium.
Getting into a frenzy stocking up on items that may not necessarily help you in the grand scheme of things is nonsensical. Everyone just needs to take a breather.
Certainly, everything looks a lot scarier when it happens to the US. But in that same vein, with them being forced to take a more active role in preventing the spread of the virus, we have gained a lot of valuable insight for what not to do.
Focusing on the information and following the advice of experts internationally and locally is what will give us the best chance of getting through this with minimal damage. The prime minister is right in that we should not be panicking. Rather, we should prepare ourselves.
Under the direction of Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, the ministry of health has given us good guidelines on how to best protect ourselves and as this fluid situation continues to take shape, we must do away with partisan-driven attacks on the government and avoid false narratives as COVID-19 doesn’t care where you mark in the ballot box.
Together - and only together - we can get through this.