NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands said he expects The Bahamas will follow suit with several other jurisdictions and impose restrictions against travelers from the United Kingdom as it experiences a surge of a new strain of the coronavirus.
“The Bahamas was one of the first countries in the world to impose an immigration or border control policy that resulted in a ban ostensively on people coming from China, and then subsequently South Korea, Iran and Italy,” said Sands, when contacted for comment.
“And then a number of countries including the United States followed suit.
”So, the difficult decisions I don’t think we have an issue making, notwithstanding the fact that the UK is a close ally.
“But this is about a very serious event and a country, The Bahamas, that does not have the infrastructure to subtype COVID.
“And so, I suspect in very short order and this is Duane Sands speaking — I am not speaking for the government of The Bahamas — that we will probably end up having to follow France and other countries that have imposed a travel ban on the UK.”
Attempts to reach Minister of Health Renward Wells were unsuccessful.
A host of nations have banned flight from Britain, while France has barred the entry of trucks from Britain for 48 hours while the strain is assessed.
Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures in London and neighboring areas where health officials have said the new strain is “out of control”.
According to researchers and early evidence, the strain is not more lethal, and it is believed the existing vaccinations being rolled out will still be effective against it.
Asked whether he believes The Bahamas should undertake to ban UK travelers, Sands said: “Yes.”
He was also asked whether the existing travel regime, which involves RT PCR testing, a travel visa and following up testing, was sufficient to detect new strains of the virus.
In response, Sands said The Bahamas does not perform genetic and molecular analysis on the COVID-19 results.
“You either have COVID or you don’t,” he said of the testing regime.
“So, at the end of the day we would have no idea whether we have variant one, variant two, variant six, or variant 29, we don’t know.
“Unlike other countries where different communities are able to say we have 28 percent of the UI20201201 and we have 16 percent of this etc, The Bahamas does not have that capacity.
“And so, when you don’t have that level of capacity then your strategies have to be even more robust to protect the people.”
Sands pointed out it has yet to be seen what impact will vaccination have and whether the new strain eludes the protection of the existing inoculation conferred by vaccination.
He said it is important to bear in mind that vaccination — Pfizer or Moderna — does not stop the infection and it remains unknown if they prevent transmission.
“And so, it is expected in the short term that as the preponderance or prevalence of this particular variant increases, that there will be even more COVID cases as opposed to less, even as your vaccination campaign rolls out,” Sands said.
Sands underscored that “COVID is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and certainly for the next six to 12 months it is going to be an integral part of our reality”.
“And so, we are going to have to identify the fiscal, human and other resources not only to fight COVID, but to create a COVID resilient Bahamas — one that has adequate food security; one that has the ability to maintain a throughput of funds into the coffers,” Sands said.
“You know our government revenues are at a historic low right now, relative to anticipated, budgeted inflows.
“The need to have the entire country focused on resiliency in the face of COVID with multisectoral, intersectoral cooperation; think tanks; discussions involving many different representatives from civil society etc.; not just the government is so, so important, so we can reprioritize what we do in The Bahamas, so we are ready for third wave, the fourth wave and the fifth wave.”