I. Chester Cooper
M.P., The Exumas & Ragged Island
PLP Deputy Leader, Shadow Minister of Finance
I listened intently tonight as the Prime Minister announced immediate changes to the emergency orders which will dramatically shift the state of everyday life on Exuma.
Had anyone in Cabinet bothered to ask my advice, I would have been happy to assist.
However, after recently being briefed by local officials, we this week ramped up our public education campaign on Exuma to encourage greater adherence to the health protocols.
While the rapid rise in cases on Exuma is very troubling and some restrictive measures may be warranted to slow the spread, I do not support full weekend lockdowns.
They are too blunt an instrument for the situation as it stands.
We are just now experiencing some relief on the tourism front after months of lingering in the economic doldrums.
We have international flights now coming in from Florida and North Carolina on Saturdays.
And we were experiencing serious interest in domestic travel from New Providence before the quarantine was reinstated.
Not only will this damage our brand internationally, but it will further starve Exuma’s economy of vital tourism dollars.
I also do not support the cessation of in-person schooling.
Whilst my team donated a significant quantity of tablets, I am not satisfied that the virtual platform has been sufficiently tested on Exuma or that the Internet connectivity exists to support it.
Lockdowns are not a plan.
While they may temporarily reduce the spread of the virus on Exuma, we need a viable plan moving forward.
We need to get back to the fundamentals of COVID-19 management – widespread and free testing, contact tracing, quarantining those who have contracted it and ensuring compliance and enforcing the public health protocols through the police and COVID ambassadors.
If not, we will be back here again in short order.
In addition, tests are currently taking too long to come back for Exumians, hampering contact tracing and quarantining.
I would also note that the hospital on Exuma is understaffed and healthcare workers are overworked.
As I have repeatedly urged, the hospital needs to be fully staffed and resourced so that it can serve as a healthcare hub for the central and southern Bahamas.
I would also like to urge Exumians to not let down their guard.
It has been a long haul and everyone is tired, but COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time.
Please wear your masks, do not gather in large groups, and practice social distancing and proper hygiene.
Above all, be safe.
You will be in my prayers.
But you will also be able to look to Team Cooper on the ground for as much assistance as we can provide.