Diane Phillips Column

COVID-19 A virus with unintended consequences

By Diane Phillips

We all know the obvious consequences of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. We see the closed signs on shops, the empty airports, ports, schools and churches. We see an economy temporarily grinding to a halt. We hear the silence of streets after 9 pm and we are far happier than we should be to see the garbage collection truck because it signifies activity.

What we don’t see are the underlying, and perhaps strangest and most dangerous changes, of all – how we view each other.

Strangers are no longer friends we just haven’t met yet. They could be disease-carrying enemies. That man in the glasses at the other end of the produce aisle could be asymptomatic but carrying the virus. That woman in line waiting to get into the pharmacy may have had contact with one of the 15 confirmed cases of Covid-19. We are suddenly looking at everyone on the street, in the food store, at the ATM as a possible enemy, a potential infector who could accidentally sneeze on us and change our lives forever. We have lost our trust because we can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. They all look the same. No one is wearing a sign with official Covid-free declaration.

Distrust is a natural response in an uncertain time with an invisible enemy. What you cannot see is always more frightening than what you can but that fear is accelerated now by our social isolation. Safer at home inadvertently or covertly implies that what lurks out there could make us ill or kill us. I am not questioning the value of staying at home. We know it works and truth be told, it has a lot of positives. This is the most time I’ve spent at home with my family in decades and we are getting a lot of those odd jobs done and enjoying each other’s and all the cooped-up dogs’ company. But the unspoken reality is that we now look at everyone on the outside of our little world as a possible threat. And that is so sad.

Just when we need to pull together, we are scared of one another and as the days go on, distancing ourselves more and more. As a friend said this week, “Thank heavens, my sinus isn’t acting up this week. If I were to sneeze at the bank or blow my nose, people could panic and good luck with my explaining about sinus.”

You used to have to carry a gun or drugs or an undeserved grudge to be public enemy number one. Now everyone is a suspect because we don’t know what they are carrying or if they are. We look at a stranger with daggers in our eyes if they get too close. If we are not careful, coronavirus could take its toll on one of the country’s greatest assets – our Bahamian hospitality and warmth.

Let us hope that when a vaccine is developed or the virus has run its course for this round, we slip back into what comes naturally, a smile and a hug, answered just as warmly with a reciprocal squeeze.

If ever you doubted Bahamian artistic talent

So many great Bahamian artists of every genre have left us – in fine arts Brent Malone, Amos Ferguson, Jackson Burnside, in performing arts, Ronnie Butler, King Eric, Mdeez, most recently singer songwriter Eric Minns. But if you want to find reason for hope, you don’t have to look any further than #36, The Central Bank’s 36th edition of the National Arts Competition.  With both open category and high school competition, with lay-out compiled by relatively new Central Bank curator Ulrich Volges and photographs by the unstoppable Roland Rose and others, the coffee table catalogue is filled with artwork that could stand up to almost any world standard. Watch for more work by Christina Wong who competed in the open category and St. Andrew’s student Makeda Smith. And check out the catalogue online as there were only 400 printed. The competition awards ceremony took place last November under the patronage of Cornelius A. Smith, Governor General, but looking at the images months later will lift your spirits at a time when a little lift is especially welcome.

Brother, can you spare a dime? How about a bit more?

With social distancing driving down the number of hot meals the Bahamas Feeding Network can prepare in its modest space on Fox Hill Road where they have turned a small cottage into a massive kitchen capable of turning out 5,500 hot meals a week, the network needs more funding than ever to purchase, package and distribute hundreds of food parcels to compensate.

“So many people are out of work or on reduced wages so the need is greater than ever,” explains Bahamas Feeding Network Executive Director Philip Smith. “We were prepping and cooking thousands of meals a week on Thursdays and Sundays, thanks in large part to our major corporate sponsor, Royal Caribbean which provided most of the food for all of 2019 and has continued to help as best they can given all that is happening. Our space is pretty tight so to observe all the protocols, we have had to switch to providing parcels of groceries that we can pass to persons in need or to church and feeding centre leaders for them to distribute.”

Each parcel of non-perishable items costs about $50 and can feed a family of four for up to one week.