Approximately two and a half weeks ago, after Germany recorded its highest daily number of COVID-19 infections (7,830) in a 24-hour period, a startling record since the pandemic began, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded the alarm.
Around the same time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German President, entered quarantine after a bodyguard tested positive for the coronavirus.
Despite the protective bubble around the President and vaunted discipline of Germans, the virus penetrated the tight circle of the head of state of the most prosperous nation in Europe. Measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is the fifth largest economy in the world.
The news in Germany – one of the countries in Europe and internationally that has been praised for handling the virus well – unsettled the country and offered a reminder cum warning to the world about the insidious nature of the highly contagious virus that quickly takes advantage of any circumstance it finds to infect and to kill.
Even the most advanced countries in the world, including Germany, with enormous resources and the experienced leadership of Merkel – who has been Chancellor for an impressive 15 years – are highly vulnerable to outbreaks, COVID fatigue, magical thinking by citizens, slippages and indiscipline in following health measures and empty criticism from some critics pursuing narrow and/or personal agendas.
In sounding the alarm to her nation of 83 million, Chancellor Merkel asked Germans to stay at home amidst the dramatic and unexpected rise in infections, which took some governmental officials by surprise, as has been the case in a number of jurisdictions throughout the pandemics.
Officials at home and abroad are still grappling with the contours and the nature of the virus, with its virulent stratagems and relentlessness in exploiting ignorance and conspiratorial and magical thinking, including by those who continue to downplay its dangers and deadly force.
Sadly, but no longer surprisingly, only the most egregiously disingenuous commentators, journalists and certain political figures continue to use the pandemic to pursue their narrow agendas or to vent their dislikes against various public officials, including the Prime Minister.
Throughout the pandemic, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis has been incredibly and exceptionally disappointing, policy-wise and politically. His policy flip flops and summersaults have been dizzying and exceedingly irresponsible.
Some of the press statements and policy prescriptions by the Opposition have been truly amateurish, including some of its ideas on mass testing, which have not passed muster when considered within the context of our national resources and the trajectory of the virus in The Bahamas.
Mr Davis often seems more driven by magical thinking rather than considered ideas, such as some of his commentary on lockdowns. Lockdowns and curfews do need to be used carefully, strategically and sparingly.
But there are moments when such measures are absolutely necessary in the moment, as most of Europe is currently experiencing in what may be a deadly and painful winter.
Mr Davis has seemingly been more interested in offering popular rather than well-deliberated ideas. By contrast, in the United Kingdom Labour Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer was way ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in calling for the current national lockdown in his nation.
In some countries, opposition officials have called for more strenuous health measures than government officials, preferring to be seen as serious about the pandemic, rather than seeking to be playing on public sentiment and pandering to the moment, which may well backfire long-term.
Driven by science, advice from medical officials and the political sense that he needs to be seen as responsible in his declarations and positions on COVID-19 from the British people, the media and scientific and medical bodies, Sir Keir has been careful in his pronouncements.
At home, it appears Mr Davis can offer all manner of statements, some of which are dutifully reported by the press with often little context or response within a story from health and other government officials.
Tellingly, after publicly opposing the most recent extension of the emergency orders, Mr Davis and his colleagues did not even vote on the extension in the House of Assembly, for which they suffered severe public criticism.
Meanwhile, there are those who seem hell-bent on rooting for the government to fail and who selectively and without context circulate fevered memes on social media. Some seem to be rooting for failure because of their dislike of the Prime Minister.
Given the harrowing nature of this disease, any Prime Minister, whether PLP or FNM, should be criticised for failures but also encouraged and supported in their efforts to save lives.
In a weekly podcast, Merkel encouraged and beseeched the German populace, as have leaders around the world, including Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis:
“We have to do everything we can now to ensure that the virus does not spread uncontrollably – every day counts. I ask you to refrain from any trip that is not really necessary, any celebration that is not really necessary. Please stay at home, wherever you are, whenever possible.”
Merkel advised that her Western European nation was in a “very serious phase” of the pandemic. She confirmed that “the number of new infections is increasing by leaps and bounds every day.”
Merkel also noted why the virus was increasing dramatically: “The comparatively relaxed summer is over; now we are facing difficult months. How winter will be, how our Christmas will be, will be decided in the coming days and weeks. We all decide that through our actions.”
When Dr Minnis says similar things and asks for personal and collective responsibility, he is pilloried by some in the Opposition who claim he is blaming the Bahamian people.
Somehow, the irresponsibility of some citizens and the failure to abide by certain measures, is the fault of the Government and Dr Minnis.
When the Prime Minister goes to Parliament for similar emergency powers and measures to help arrest the spread of the virus, as is done through emergency decrees in Germany, throughout Europe and the world, he is asininely and foolishly labelled a “dictator”, including by those who should know better.
When he encourages Bahamians to follow life-saving health measures, some, including certain celebrities on social media, opine that he needs greater enforcement, even as some disingenuously promote the notion that he is not encouraging citizens enough.
The vast majority of governments in the world are trying to balance the health, economic and social needs of the country as well as find a balance between encouragement and enforcement, even more difficult balancing acts in a democracy.
In her podcast, Merkel asked: “What brought us so well through the first half year of the pandemic?” She offered this assessment:
“It was that we stood together and obeyed the rules out of consideration and common sense. This is the most effective remedy we currently have against the pandemic and it is more necessary now than ever.”
This is also a core message from Dr Minnis and the Government. Then there are those who are relentless in insisting that certain officials are not being transparent in reporting the health data on COVID-19.
Such commentary is an assault on health officials, including Dr Merceline Dahl Regis, an expert driven by data and science, a woman of enormous integrity, and someone who does not suffer gladly the foolish statements by many, including some journalists.
As was seen in the reporting of HIV/AIDS cases over the years, The Bahamas has a reputation for being transparent when reporting various health data. A number of the countries in the region do not enjoy this reputation.
The Bahamas is reporting COVID-19 positive results from the National Reference Laboratory and private labs. Are there any of our regional neighbours who are not publicly reporting cases from private labs?
The Ministry of Health has revealed a great deal of information during its regular press conferences and on its dashboards. It has consistently reported on the state of hospital beds and ICU bed capacity, the backlog at various labs, the number of deaths and those under investigation, contact tracing challenges etc.
The Ministry has its challenges but it is an unfair assessment to suggest that it or other officials have been purposely withholding information. Globally, a number of countries are counting COVID deaths in a curious and sometimes less fulsome manner.
There may have been difficulties with processing COVID data but reporting has improved. The world is likely only at the end of the beginning of the pandemic, with more waves to come in the many months ahead.
There is still a long way to go in this pandemic. While we are currently making progress, things can change rapidly. But most of our success in fighting this pandemic is overwhelmingly in the hands and behaviour of the Bahamian people.
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