Strain first seen in UK creeps closer to The Bahamas
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While it has yet to be seen if the government will adjust its approved travel list amid a new COVID variant creeping closer to The Bahamas’ shores, Attorney General Carl Bethel told Eyewitness News he had not received instructions to formulate a policy relating to the matter.
“I have not received any drafting instructions,” said Bethel, who deferred questions on the matter on Sunday to the Ministry of Health.
“I’ll have to check my mail, but as of this afternoon, nothing.”
Calls placed to Minister of Health Renward Wells were unsuccessful.
A host of nations have banned flights from Britain.
Only four European Union countries are allowing non-essential travelers from the United Kingdom.
The Bahamas will not have direct flights from the UK until next month, according to officials.
Yesterday, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new lockdown for England until at least mid-February to thwart the more contagious variant of the virus as Britain ramps up its vaccination program.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in England have increased 30 percent in the last week to the highest level of the first wave last year.
After cases of the same variant were recorded in Colorado and California earlier last week, a case of the strain seen in England appeared in Florida last Thursday.
That day, three more cases of the new strain emerged in California.
According to local and international health experts, the virus is significantly more contagious than the previously identified strain, but not more deadly.
However, there remain concerns that infections of a more contagious strain in The Bahamas could lead to a surge in hospitalizations and ultimately overwhelm the healthcare sector as was seen in the third quarter of last year when cases surged for several months.
Multiple COVID variants have appeared across the globe, including Canada, South Africa and Nigeria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The variant in the United Kingdom, which was detected last September and coined B117, has “emerged with an unusually large number of mutations”.
“This variant seems to spread more easily and quicker than other variants,” the CDC said.
“Currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death.”
Notwithstanding the contagiousness of the new variant, existing vaccines being distributed are expected to be just as effective.
According to Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes, The Bahamas has the ability to test for subgroups of COVID-19.
It remains unclear whether the strain seen in the United Kingdom has already impacted the nation.
Last week, Consultant Physician Staff Association (CPSA) President Dr Sabriquet Pinder-Butler told Eyewitness News consultant physicians are watching with “bated breath” as to how the variant could potentially impact The Bahamas, on the heels of what could be an uptick as a result of holiday activities — the latter of which may not be seen in the data for weeks to come.
She said the next few weeks will be telling.
In the last week, COVID-19 cases increased around 16 percent compared to the week prior — 69 cases between December 20-26, 2020, and 80 cases during the period December 27, 2020 through January 2, 2021.