Bahamas battles COVID-19 after still battling Hurricane Dorian
In September 2019, just after Hurricane Dorian demolished the northern Bahamas, WLRN’s Tim Padgett spoke with Father Stephen Grant, pastor of St. Jude’s Anglican Church in Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama. .
WLRN followed Grant as he delivered food and water to families devastated by Dorian – and listened to his insightful observations on the new big challenges facing small Caribbean islands like the Bahamas as global warming makes hurricanes stronger.
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Now the Bahamas and the Caribbean face another dire challenge: COVID-19. The pandemic has become so severe in the Bahamas that last week the country held an early general election to regroup to deal with the crisis.
Padgett therefore reconnected with Father Grant, by phone, for a better understanding of what the Bahamas are facing.
Here are excerpts from their conversation, edited for clarity.
WLRN: The Bahamas are still recovering very slowly from Hurricane Dorian two years later. How has the COVID pandemic delayed this recovery?
GRANT: Oh, my God, that goes without saying. Due to the pandemic, the price of materials is rising dramatically in the Bahamas, especially in places like Sweetings Cay. It is a small island between Abaco and Grand Bahama. So far, only five houses have been rebuilt there out of 110.
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The pandemic is like dragging an even heavier weight now. We lost quite a few people to Dorian at Sweetings Cay. People we never found. They were taken away. Friends and relatives. I knew them all personally.
But we have lost more to COVID. There was a very helpful young man named Bradley Tate. They depended on him to move materials like timber from the mainland to Sweetings Cay. And he did it several times without [charging]. About six months ago, we lost it to COVID.
We are very close to the United States, particularly Florida. Social media fairy tales about vaccination have been of no help to the Bahamas.
Father Stephen Grant
The pandemic was the big problem in last week’s general election in the Bahamas. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his National Free Movement party lost hard to Philip Brave Davis and the Liberal Progressive Party. Why do you think?
I voted for Mr. Minnis. You know, he’s a doctor. He was very focused on the pandemic. But they say he wasn’t paying enough attention to the economy.
The main thing is the economy. It was already down from Dorian and COVID came along and made it worse. Unemployment has skyrocketed. We have like 35% unemployment here in Grand Bahama. We depend on tourism. A big hit in the arm would be the cruise ships. They are now looking for a hub here in the Bahamas due to the situation in Florida.
Law. Unlike the Florida state government, the Bahamas supports cruise lines requiring cruise ship passengers to be vaccinated.
“LIKE THE BIBLE”
But only 17% of the Bahamian population is fully vaccinated so far.
Years ago here we had typhoid fever. And people were happy to participate, to be vaccinated. But now we have the COVID vaccine here, and we have enough vaccines for everyone – but there are still people who would rather listen to fairy tales about vaccination. And social media in the US is no help with that. We are very close to everything that is happening in the United States, especially Florida. If they don’t do something, we think we should be a part of it, so neither do we.
The United States was certainly not the best example of a pandemic in the world. But isn’t it also up to the leaders of the Bahamas to fight against this kind of disinformation?
Yes. We need more education. But I get a good response in my congregation. It’s almost like the Bible – that’s what you have to do, get vaccinated, do the things that are necessary for you to survive.
Father, you are a pastor, and I’m curious about the role you think faith played in getting the Bahamas through the double punch of Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.
Everyone is born for a time like this. Dorian destroyed the eastern part of Grand Bahama, but there are people who are ready to go home and trust God for the next situation. The faith of our people is very strong as a family island people. We will work together to defeat Dorian and COVID as well.