Countries are closing their borders, tourists are cancelling vacations, cruise ships are stranded at sea due to port shutdowns and employees are being put on reduced workweeks or losing their jobs entirely due to the global outbreak, COVID-19. And the worst part is, this is just the beginning.
Late last week, a top Bank of America (BOA) economist confirmed that the United States – the country where The Bahamas gets the majority of its tourists – is now in a recession.
“We are officially declaring that the economy has fallen into a recession . . . joining the rest of the world, and it is a deep plunge. Jobs will be lost, wealth will be destroyed and confidence depressed,” economist Michelle Meyer said in a note to investors.
It’s terrible news for The Bahamas.
Single parent households, low-income workers, undocumented nationals, and those working directly in the tourism industry are already being financially crippled by the coronavirus. Many of them have been operating without a safety net for years – no savings, no insurance and no family to turn to when the bottom falls out.
Making matters worse is the fact that The Bahamas has a weak savings culture. Many Bahamians have less than $1,000 in their bank account. In fact, in 2017, the Central Bank revealed that nearly 90 per cent of deposit accounts held by Bahamas residents had less than $5,000. One trip to the emergency room could wipe that out. Thousands of residents, who, for years have been living hand-to-mouth, may be one pay cheque away from homelessness. Few Bahamians can absorb the financial shock of being out of work for several weeks or more.
If we were somehow counting on American tourists to save us, we’re mistaken.
The US Department of State is already advising its citizens to avoid all international travel due to the coronavirus. It also urged citizens who are in those countries to immediately return to the US or they may be forced to remain outside that country for an indefinite timeframe.
It is against that dangerous financial and social backdrop that Bahamians find themselves.
Life As We Knew It
This virus, which emanated in Wuhan, China last December, has spread to several residents in The Bahamas and disrupted life as we know it.
The temporary closure of schools and daycare facilities means many parents are left scrambling to find someone to care for their children, or pleading with employers to allow them to work from home. Some parents have shared with me that they have been forced to take vacation days or call in sick in order to stay with their children.
Few parents can afford to hire a housekeeper or a nanny at this time, especially if they have concerns about future cashflows.
This is a difficult time all around. But, it really is going to require some flexibility on all sides. If the employee is a parent and can do his or her job from home, then employers need to allow them to work remotely.
This is also not the time to go overspending. Naturally, people want to ensure that they have necessary food items and hygienic products to sustain them, but they should not overdo it and deplete their cash.
Water & Sewerage Should Go Further
I was happy to see that the Water & Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has decided to suspend water disconnections for now. I think the corporation also needs to give consideration to restoring the supplies of those customers whose water has been disconnected.
There are many customers who have unpaid bills with the corporation, but given the public health threat that this virus poses, we cannot afford to have individuals in this country without access to clean, running water. Not only is it dangerous, it’s potentially deadly.
One of the main things that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been stressing is the need for frequent hand washing with soap.
Just yesterday, the United Nations (UN) observed World Water Day, recognizing the fact that two out of five people or three billion people around the world lack basic hand washing facilities at home.
That, coupled with the fact that there is no vaccine for this virus that has killed thousands of people worldwide and infected more than 246,000 people and counting, is worrying.
By reconnecting supplies, we would ensure that residents are at least able to wash their hands.
My other concern is for those residents who do not have indoor plumbing and thus access to clean, running water. I think our Ministry of Health needs to ensure that in those instances, residents are getting supplies to keep their hands sanitized at the very least. It’s no replacement for hand washing, but it’s something.
Bahamians everywhere need to hunker down until this situation is under control. Self-quarantining and social distancing are a good start and should be taken seriously.
Health experts say older people are twice as likely to have serious complications from the virus. Those with underlying or chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart disease are also at a higher risk. That’s scary news for The Bahamas, which has a population with a high number of non-communicable diseases.
We’re Not Thinking Straight
People are not thinking straight at this time due to their fears over the virus.
Food stores and pharmacy shelves are being depleted of essential items because people are panic shopping. What they don’t realize is that it takes everyone to fight this virus, not just a select few. So, every time one person hoards the Clorox wipes or hand sanitizer, someone else who may genuinely need them, is not able to get them.
Let’s not forget that there are other places in need of these items as well – clinics, public spaces, senior citizen homes, etc. They are not able to properly sanitize their areas without these items. We have to think beyond the coronavirus.