NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Ministry of Health Dr Nikkiah Forbes said yesterday that despite layers of screenings, one of three symptomatic people can test negatively for COVID-19.
“And so, persons can be infected with SARS-CoV and their tests could be in fact negative,” said Forbes during an interview with Eyewitness News.
“Even people who are having signs of symptoms, depending on when you test them, one in three can actually have a negative test with using the traditional PCR methods — that’s a swab on the nasal cavity and the back of the mouth, so it is not perfect.
“So, that means even with testing travelers who don’t have symptoms, there can be no 100 percent guarantee that people don’t have SARS-CoV when they are traveling and when they arrive in any country.
“If you test them ahead of time, there is no guarantee. And if you test them on arrival, there is also no guarantee. That being said, the best that any country can do is try to mitigate the risk — travelers or even repatriated people or persons traveling into countries — of importing COVID-19.”
The government requires all individuals, with few exceptions, to test negatively for the virus within 10 days of travel in order to enter The Bahamas — a restriction that has been met with mixed reactions from potential visitors.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte told Eyewitness News negative testing requirements have not been successful as carriers of the virus can test negatively in a 10-day window.
He said The Bahamas is likely to observe imported cases of the virus as the country opens to commercial carriers as of July 1.
Forbes said despite the restrictive measures there is “no perfect scenario, no perfect test”.
Forbes said testing is among the means to mitigate imported cases, and some countries have determined to test upon arrival, while others including The Bahamas has required advanced testing within a period of time.
She said in addition to testing, screening including collecting traveler information and determining risk, health assessments, and upon arrival, temperature scanning also help to mitigate importation of additional cases.
“There are also additional measure like quarantine, so persons may have to go in quarantine for 14 days while we wait to see if they have symptoms,” she said.
“If they have symptoms, of course, they will be tested. If they have no symptoms… then you can let them continue their movement knowing what we understand about the science of COVID — that most people will get over this within a week — or some people might be tested at the end of that day, but there is no perfect scenario.
“There is no magic bullet that can guarantee that everyone who arrives, you are going to know 100 percent of their COVID status. All you can do is minimize risk.”
Jamaica for example, which opened up its borders to commercial carriers on June 15, requires travelers to obtain travel authorization by completing a form; and health screening and risk assessment by health authorities is undergone upon entry.
A COVID-19 testing is performed if a passenger is assessed as a high risk, according to US Embassy in Jamaica.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently said there were 14 new imported cases in a 24-hour period — all from the United States, which has seen surges of new infections across half of its states in recent days.
Asked whether health officials have recommended for any country to be exclude from travelling to The Bahamas, Forbes said health consultants did consider areas where there are high levels of community transmission.
She said: “That information will be considered on an individualized basis with other specific things about the traveler, in addition to where they are from; whether they are having symptoms; what does their COVID test say. So, there is a screening process that comes into play when we look at arrivals.”
The Bahamas continues to enjoy a slowed rate of cases, having only confirmed four new infections since late May.
The flattening of the curve, as acknowledged by health officials, continues to hold notwithstanding the eased restrictions in recent weeks.
There were nine active cases as of yesterday.