By E.J. Rolle
Irony was the first word that came to mind when I went to the food store and saw the line to the store extending for miles.
It’s ironic, because as Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis continues to explicate the idea of the need for social distancing in order to battle COVID-19, was his announcement of a coming five-day lockdown that forced Bahamians out of their homes in droves.
There was no doubt that following a weekend lockdown the streets would be full-on Monday morning. By late Monday morning, Grand Bahama’s streets looked like a regular working day, but the long lines at the food stores and pharmacies was evident that there was nothing regular about the day.
Residents were like freed slaves, happy to be outside of their homes after having been forced to stay in for two straight days.
All of this with a so-called 24-hour curfew still in place.
However, the prime minister’s address in Parliament on Monday morning put another spin on things.
“As of Wednesday, April 8 at 9:00 pm there will be another complete lockdown until Tuesday, April 14, 2020,” he announced to Parliamentarians and to the entire Bahamas.
Before the prime minister had even finished his address, panic was unfolding on the streets of Grand Bahama and in New Providence. Long lines at stores, pharmacies and banks got even longer and “panic buying” became the order of the day for those who were fortunate enough to get inside of a store.
More irony raised its ugly head as the new shopping list issued by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) was not being adhered to on the first day of implementation.
During the weekend of the first complete lockdown, the OPM sent out assigned days for shopping, based on the first letter of residents’ surname. Those who had surnames beginning with A to F were the only ones allowed into stores on Monday.
“Ain’t nobody checking for that,” said Marlene, a 42-year-old single mother who was on the line at Solomon’s food store in Lucaya. “You trying to tell me that this long line is only for people with those letters? Child please. These people going crazy out here. I gatta get what I need.”
By Tuesday, the long lines began early in the morning, even before the stores were opened. The line at Cost Rite wrapped around the store and past Automotive Industrial Distributors (AID); Solomon’s food store in Lucaya extended all the way into the neighborhood behind the store; Sawyer’sFresh Market looked as if the store was giving out free items and SavMor Pharmacy had a line that extended almost as far Commonwealth Bank.
In New Providence, the madness was just as prevalent.
Having so many people out and about on the streets at one time was what the prime minister wanted to avoid.
“There are still too many people out and about on the streets,” the Prime Minister had said, just before announcing the first weekend lockdown. “Unfortunately, there are too many people who are not taking this situation seriously.”
What’s even more disturbing is the fact that this week is supposed to be a critical week for The Bahamas, as it entered the “surge” or “peak” for the number of expected infections of COVID-19. As a result, it meant it was best not to be around so many people.
Simply put, this week was perhaps the worst week for Bahamians to be out and about on the streets and coming into contact with each other.
I ended up on the long line at the pharmacy because of the critical need to secure medications, not just for me, but for my kids, especially in the face of the five-day lockdown. It took me two hours to get in.
Honestly, only because I really needed the medication, did I stay on that long line. If the sun wasn’t bad enough, the person behind me obviously missed math classes in school because he had no idea what six feet looked like. He was on the line without a mask or gloves and he was so close to me that I could feel him breathing on my neck.
“Excuse me, can you step back to at least six feet please,” I told him, after turning around to address him, unable to take it anymore.
Needless to say, he gave me a dirty look as if he wanted to make a big deal out of my request, but he hesitated and then stepped back a little. I was supposed to have picked up some items from the food store, but the long line at the pharmacy quickly erased that thought.
When I find myself on one of those long lines again (apparently, that has become the new normal), I will be carrying my measuring tape, because some people don’t know what six feet apart means.
I’m afraid that what has transpired over the past two days have only helped to increase the number of people in Grand Bahama who could possibly be infected with the Novel coronavirus or COVID-19. In their haste and in their panic, people were becoming careless.
I saw people resting their cellphones and keys on counters where other people had leaned against and had placed their exposed hands. I’ve seen people take change from cashiers and then put their hands on their face. I watched as people who had handled items on shelves and then used that same hand to adjust or pull down their mask to speak.
Trips to the food stores became social gatherings for many, as I watched groups of women and men standing around, no more than a foot apart, without masks, talking loudly and laughing; and I’ve even seen people go as far as hugging each other when greeting them.
The most critical week for Bahamians could possibly have turned into the most dangerous for the transmission of COVID-19.
“There are within our communities what are called ‘super spreaders’”, the prime minister told Parliament Monday morning, just before announcing a five-day complete lockdown.
“These ‘super spreaders’ are people who have the virus, but who show no symptoms. So, because they show no symptoms, and because they do not feel sick, they go out and gather among other people and infect hundreds. We have to lockdown to find the ‘super spreaders.’”
Only God knows how many ‘super spreaders’ took to the streets of The Bahamas over the past two days, just as panicked and just as afraid. Unfortunately, they may have done more harm this week than they could ever know.
What was supposed to be an announcement to limit people from getting too close to each other, turned out to be a situation that forced Bahamians together, close and bunched up, in an attempt to get into a store.
On Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Minnis held an impromptu press conference to announce new measures to govern food stores and pharmacies.
“I saw the long lines at the stores while driving to my office,” the prime minister told the media. “So, I called my Cabinet colleagues and we had to find a better way for Bahamians to get the things they need, but not in this manner.”
The prime minister said that the alphabetical system was only working at the stores that was enforcing it and it was failing at places that did not adhere to the new system.
Food stores were set to close on Wednesday afternoon, however, the prime minister announced Tuesday, that the food stores will open on Thursday, but only for essential workers.
Stores will open from 6:00 am to noon for members of the Royal Bahamas Police and Defence force and for healthcare professionals.
From 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm, stores will be opened for essential workers, including fire stations, The Department of Corrections, National Insurance Building, Department of Social Services, Department of Environmental Health, Customs and Immigration Department, waste disposal, water and electricity and media personnel.
Pharmacies will be permitted to open on Thursday until 3:00 pm.
The prime minister’s adjustment is greatly appreciated, however, the past two days could possibly have done great damage in the spread of COVID-19. Only time will tell. I pray to God that my calculations are really off and wrong.
The truth is, we all will have to tow long lines during this time. Actually, these lines will become our new normal and we cannot avoid them. But we must be vigilant to ensure that we each maintain a space of at least six feet apart.
We all have to do our part to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.