Lifting mask mandate in the Bahamas

By Rumi Samuel Published on April 27, 2022
Lifting mask mandate in the Bahamas

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, little was known about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the disease or the disease itself, other than it was an easily transmissible and potentially deadly respiratory illness.

Health experts were at a loss for widespread treatments; who was most vulnerable was unclear, and there were no vaccines available to treat the disease as the genomic sequence of the virus itself was not coded until the end of January 2020.

With great uncertainty followed great caution.

It can be argued that not enough was known to declare a state of emergency with one case in The Bahamas on one island, but we followed the prescription of the world’s major health agencies.

And whether the world should have modelled its response primarily on the autocratic bent of the People’s Republic of China is still being debated by scientists and lawmakers.

We regret the many instances of government overreach as our lawmakers handed most of our civil liberties to then-Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, who believed that obdurately anchoring himself to haphazard decisions projected strength.

Young men were arrested for going to the pump for water, stores were closed with little regard for their business model, joggers were arrested for exercising outdoors alone, and we tried to navigate the lunacy of going to the grocery store on the day that the government chose to align with the first letter of our last names.

Those are only a few examples of a long list of questionable occurrences.

The Bahamas was one of the first countries to institute a national mask mandate, which, to be honest, did not make sense for universal implementation.

We have seen no settled science on how effective masks are at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the general population and have learned from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cloth masks are essentially useless.

Along the campaign trail, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip Davis said that were he to become prime minister, he would be guided by the science of changing COVID-19 protocols.

Since he became prime minister, Davis has shifted health protocols based on nothing tangible as far as we can tell.

The curfew was shifted from 9 p.m. to 11:59 p.m., with no science presented to explain it.

Then, the curfew was abandoned weeks later.

The winter carnival was allowed to be set up but not operate over health officials’ concerns that it could become a super spreader event, though we saw no science to support this.

COVID cases spiked again in January, but little changed about the protocols as the prime minister and his Cabinet colleagues pushed for personal responsibility.

Since then, the mask mandate for many areas in hotels has been lifted, and tourism stakeholders repeatedly express that visitors essentially want the mask mandate raised altogether, as has been the case in many other countries.

That is not the case for non-tourism stakeholders.

Davis said yesterday that plans are underway to lift the mask mandate in The Bahamas in the coming weeks; he predicts “by summer for sure, or even sooner”.

We are unclear about what Davis expects to occur by summer that informs that decision.

Case numbers are still low, despite a slight uptick in recent days.

Does he expect them to reach zero for a particular period before a decision is made?

There is no question that many people have suffered and died battling COVID-19.

The extent to which our national level of obesity and other comorbidities might have played a role is still unknown as that data has not been made public.

As we have said repeatedly, COVID-19 is not going away.

We hope we have already seen the most virulent virus variants as treatments and more effective long-term vaccines continue to be developed.

The government should tell the public what science it is basing the current mask mandate on.

And in doing so, inform those who wish to be protected on how best to do that.

Davis has said he wants to trust the Bahamian people to live responsibly.

The notion of trust implies the relinquishing of control.

It is exceedingly difficult to demonstrate personal responsibility when one is mandated by law to wear a mask.

The science behind masking should be detailed.

And in the absence of it, the mandate should be lifted.

And those who choose to wear masks for their protection can do so.

Rumi Samuel

Rumi Samuel

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