Misinformation has potential to “undermine public health response”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Health officials said yesterday the threat of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) reaching The Bahamas’ shores is “very high”, as the potentially deadly virus’ global spread borders on a pandemic.
As of Monday, there were no suspected, reported or confirmed cases of the virus in The Bahamas.
“Given that residents of The Bahamas travel widely, and we have many arrivals to our shores from international destinations, coupled with cases now being reported in the Caribbean region, we must anticipate the reality that COVID-19 may appear in our community,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said during a press conference at the Ministry of Health.
She said if a case or cases present in The Bahamas, one of the critical public safety measures is social distancing.
“That was one of the key things that was highlighted as to why they were able to actually contain the outbreak in China,” McMillan said.
“The earlier you do that, the less likely you are to have an outbreak.
“If persons are sick, we need them to please stay home and distance themselves from contact with others.
“With the common cold and the flu, and other things that presents similarly to COVID-19, once you are having those symptoms you need to practice those measures in order to decrease the likelihood of spreading — not only the common cold or the flu — but, if it (COVID-19) is introduced into our community, we would like to have those practices ongoing already, so we are not putting ourselves at greater risk…”
The risk level for an outbreak in the Caribbean was elevated to “very high” last Thursday.
The virus reached the region over a week ago when the Dominican Republic reported its first case.
Since then, there have been a total of nine cases across the region, including DR, Saint Bart and French Guiana, though no deaths have been reported in the Caribbean.
McMillan said the region has been proactive and deliberate in developing its response and ensuring it is “harmonized” with international agencies.
“We stand ready to activate the Health Disaster Plan should it become necessary, as an essential support function of the National Emergency Management Agency plan,” she said.
Coronavirus is an infectious disease that spreads between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected persons coughs or sneezes/or contact with a contaminated surface.
Older adults and persons those with underlying health issues could be at increased risk for more severe disease, according to McMillan, who said while this is concerning, preparedness is the best protection.
McMillan added healthcare facilities have been engaged to ensure facility-level plans are in place; training activities for frontline healthcare staff are ongoing; an area has been identified for those requiring hospital care, inclusive of isolation capacity; another area has been identified outside of high-flow patients and staff for people representing respiratory symptoms to be assessed — all in an effort to reduce transmission risk in the event a case or cases present in The Bahamas.
Officials again urged against non-essential travel and advised anyone experiencing difficulty breathing, fever or bouts of coughing following travel to seek medical attention after contacting a doctor or emergency room.
Meanwhile, Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization representative Dr. Esther de Gourville said a WHO assessment in China found the outbreak passed its peak in late January, and there has been a steady decline of reported cases and deaths — all which is “encouraging news”.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Qinguo made a similar assessment last week.
According to de Gourville the outbreak in China is “being brought under control”, noting that as of March 8 China reported only 46 new cases and 27 new deaths, while over 62,000 people who contracted the virus had recovered.
Globally, the virus has infected more than 113,000 and killed over 3,900.