FREE COVID TESTING LAUNCHES: Pilot programme to begin on Inagua today

FREE COVID TESTING LAUNCHES: Pilot programme to begin on Inagua today
A nurse wearing latex gloves inserts a swab into a woman's nose to collect a possibly positive COVID-19 sample. (FILE)

“We have reached out to the private sector to launch our free testing programme”

Darville: Benefit of free testing to the wider public will far outweigh cost to govt

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As Inagua struggles with a plethora of coronavirus cases and at least six COVID-related deaths, the island will be among the first to benefit from the Davis administration’s free COVID testing pilot programme today, according to Minister of Health Dr Michael Darville.

“Our launch will start effectively tomorrow in Inagua,” he told the media yesterday ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“But again, there are a few small logistical issues that we are putting together and hopefully I [will] provide the exact departure time for that particular team later on today.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Michael Darville.

“But this is our plan — to be in Great Inagua tomorrow and set up our testing areas in two different sites and to make sure we have the necessary social distancing and from there, they will be on Inagua for Thursday, and we will be departing for Friday.”

Darville said the government will soon announce a timeline for free testing on North Eleuthera, the Berry Islands and South Eleuthera.

Antigen tests will initially be used, but the minister said for the programme to be effective, a diagnostic test such as the RT-PCR test is necessary.

How much the free COVID testing programme will cost the government remains unclear.

It was among the Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) campaign promises.

While he could not provide costing for the programme, Darville said the benefit of free testing to the wider public will far outweigh the cost.

He said as the public sector is already strained, the government has called on the private sector to become a partner in the initiative.

“We have reached out to the private sector to launch our free testing programme and the first island we will be doing free testing in is Great Inagua,” he said.

Health officials conducting a COVID test on a resident.

The minister also noted that with smaller Family Island sample sizes, the pilot programme will be able to be tweaked before being expanded.

Darville said despite attaining office just over a month ago, “much work has been done” in his ministry and in the fight against COVID.

“It’s important for the new minister to find out what is going on in the country,” he told the media.

“You see, handover notes is one thing, but usually they’re not in real time.

“It is my job to find out what is going on in the country in real time so that [when] we present our conferences, the literature and the data will be up to date.

“…That’s very important for us and so, teams are being restructured in order for us to be able to deliver fresh data and the appropriate time, in real time, at the conference, rather than speaking about what has happened about a week or two weeks before.”

Darville is expected to visit Eleuthera, Spanish Wells and Harbour Island today; and shortly thereafter, the Berry Islands, before heading to Andros and Bimini next week to assess the COVID situation there.