GB residents anxious over COVID-19 case

PICKING UP ITEMS – Grand Bahamians filled the stores on Monday to secure items after it was announced on Sunday afternoon that The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in Nassau.

By E.J. Rolle

Compass Contributor

First came the pronouncement and then came the panic.

After it was announced, during a live press briefing on national television Sunday, that The Bahamas had confirmed its first reported case of COVID-19, what followed Monday in Grand Bahama was nothing short of pandemonium.

Food stores, water depots, pharmacies and even some home good stores were inundated with long lines of customers – all seeking to grab up the last remaining “necessary” items.

Shelves sat bare, store owners tried desperately to keep up with the demand and traffic on the streets was a nightmare.

“We just had some cases of water come in yesterday and we could hardly get them out on the floor before they started disappearing,” said Mrs. Lewis of Stop n’ Shop in Caravel Beach. “We were out of water from last week as one individual came in and bought 20 cases. Another person came in and bought 11 cases of water and before nightfall, we had sold out of cases of water.”

There was “panic shopping” the week before the announcement that COVID-19 had come ashore on Bahamian waters. Places like Cost Rite, a wholesale store, was bombarded with an abundance of customers from last week Friday, straight through the weekend.

By Monday morning, the influx of customers continued, even while store clerks tried desperately to restock shelves.

“I don’t know how this is going to play out, so I trying to prepare myself,” said Melvin Davis, who was patiently standing in the long line that led to the checkout cashier.  “When you look on the American news and you see people going to the store and stocking up, it does something to you and even if you didn’t do anything when you first saw what was happening in America, once you hear that the virus is in The Bahamas, you are forced to tow these long lines to try and get what you need.”

And what exactly are the “necessary items” for a crisis like this?

“I don’t know, all I know is I buy the same things I usually get when preparing for a hurricane,” admitted Sandra, another customer in one of the long lines at Cost Rite. “I got bathroom tissue, hand towels, chips, cookies, corn beef, water, and stuff like that. I can’t find tuna nowhere in the stores. Oh, and I got some chocolate for me.”

Even the pharmacies were crowded, as residents sought to fill prescriptions and secure over the counter medications.

“This really reminds me of when hurricane is on the way,” one pharmacist said.  “We were just starting to bring back up our supplies after Dorian and now it looks as if we are going through the shipment that recently came in. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The “panic shopping” is taking place even in the midst of some level of uncertainty. Unlike a hurricane, where you know it will definitely affect everyone on the island, preparing for a virus crisis can prove to be tricky. There is no certainty that everyone will be infected and unlike a storm, there is no ETA (expected time of arrival).

Because The Bahamas has never faced a situation where an unseen virus is the threatening force, it has been difficult for Bahamians to focus their shopping on specific items. With the fear that the entire island will eventually go “on lock down,” residents are preparing to be confined in their homes for an unspecified amount of time, similar to that like when a hurricane is passing over.

But unlike a hurricane, there is expected to be no loss of electricity or water supply to homes and no possibility of having the roof blown off. Some people could be “closed in” but may never be infected.

“I didn’t know what to buy in the store, but I know for sure that I need water…you always need water,” said Shamika Rollins, who was towing a long line for water at the Crystal Clear water depot Monday morning.

She said she already had a few cases of water left over from Hurricane Dorian, but she just wanted to get a few more, “just in case.”

The flurry of activity on the streets and in the stores of Grand Bahama brought back memories of when Hurricane Dorian was approaching; one could sense the feeling of dread among residents when they knew a Category 5 storm was about to hit their island.

That same feeling has been sweeping the nation’s second city concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, as shoppers run from store to store in an attempt to find what they need, except, this situation apparently seems to evoke more fear than the approach of a storm.

Perhaps that fear lies in the unknown.

MISSING ITEMS – Shelves in many food stores in Grand Bahama were wearing thin as hundreds of residents took to the stores over the past week to secure items in preparation for an outbreak of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

There are no vaccines for COVID-19, no one knows for certain how to treat it, no one knows how long the symptoms will persists and most frightening of all is that no one knows who has the virus, unless they have been tested by a physician.

No cases of COVID-19 has yet been confirmed in Grand Bahama, but residents are not taking the possibility of its arrival lightly. Some residents have already begun wearing gloves and masks and the sound of anyone in stores coughing or sneezing gets side glances from other shoppers.

“There is still time to put in place the proper protocol to avoid catching this virus,” said Chief Medical Officer Pearl McMillian during Sunday’s press conference. “We have to remember to constantly wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and practice social distancing.”

“Fake news” fuelled the flame of panic in The Bahamas and social media sensationalism is only making matters worse, by instilling unfounded fear. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Sunday warned against Bahamians becoming prey to social media pirates who only want to instill fear in individuals.

“There will be a large amount of fake news that is being circulated by people who want to scare you, but ignore them,” said Dr. Hubert Minnis, during his national address on Sunday. “Stay informed by certified organizations and trusted and responsible news sources.

“Fake news will have you panic with information that is false. Again, I ask you to ignore it and do not forward it.”

Social media was already abuzz with comments that the government plans to shut down the country sometime this week. This may have helped to spur on the panic shopping in Grand Bahama.

However, there has been no indications that the government will impose a mandatory lockdown of the island, where no one gets in or out, but there is the possibility that there could be a call for businesses and companies to close and have all employees stay at home.

Schools in The Bahamas have already been ordered closed until April 14, and many feel it’s only a matter of time before workers are told to stay home as well.

On Monday, police could be seen on the streets on various corners and that only helped to fuel more suspicions and heighten the panic many Grand Bahamians were beginning to feel. Also, when one considers that many countries around the world have been forced to implement curfews, if more cases of the virus begin popping up in The Bahamas, a mandated curfew could be something which the government might have to consider.

In the meantime, Grand Bahamians, who are no strangers to major hurricanes and hard time, will continue to prepare in the way they know best – stock up, pray and wait.

“This crisis is deeply worrisome, and many are understandably worried and afraid,” said Dr. Minnis. “But out of control fear will not will not help in this time of crisis. The world is experiencing a crisis, and our response as a country, as a people, must be unified.”


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