NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) official said yesterday The Bahamas is likely to observe an influx of imported cases of COVID-19 as carriers of the virus can test negatively within a 10-day window.
This comes as the country prepares to resume commercial air traffic on July 1.
In addition to temperature scanning and health assessment forms at the points of entry, the government will also require all individuals, with few exceptions, to test negative for the virus to gain entry into The Bahamas.
Responding to questions from Eyewitness News about the risk of a resurgence of cases despite these measures, PAHO Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte said: “As you know the test, if it is negative or if it is positive, it is something that is related to the moment that the test is taken.
“There are many cases where people will be asymptomatic and the test may be negative, so If the person takes the test, let’s say one week before traveling, and they go to the country, they may still have the disease.
“So, this is one of the criteria that is being evaluated and we need to look at that very carefully considering, especially, that all the filters and the screenings at the borders — both at the points of entry and also at the exit borders — have not been successful during this pandemic [or] any other pandemic by the way.”
As of Wednesday, The Bahamas had nine active cases, and only four new infections in over three weeks.
There have been a total of 104 cases.
While cases of the virus in the countries in the Caribbean region, with the exceptions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have generally trended downward, the contrast has occurred in the Americas.
On Tuesday, The United States recorded more than 35,000 new cases — the highest daily increase since the outbreak peaked in late April.
The US leads global cases with 2.3 million infections, followed by Brazil, which breached 1.1 million this week, and Russian — over 600,000 cases.
These countries could be excluded from the list of acceptable travelers that can visit European Union bloc of countries as of July 1 due to infection levels.
Ugarte was also asked these potential exclusions.
He said the decision to reopen to international travel rests with each country, adding PAHO and the World Health Organization will publish a document in short order outlining considerations that ought to be taken into account before reopening to non-essential international travel.
He noted “spikes in cases in several countries”.
“We are seeing that countries that had previously had the disease under control have had outbreaks within their own countries and they could even see a second peak in the diseases; sometimes higher than the previous one as part of this first wave,” the PAHO official said.
“The main items the document will include is that first of all, there is no such thing as zero risk.
“There is always some kind of risk and the decision must be made from the point of view of managing that risk. At this point, there are no tools whatsoever — via diagnostic or epidemiological filters or screenings — that would enable us to decide who are in a position to board a plane and who are not.
“The third thing aspect is that national authorities should take into account when assessing the ‘when, how and from and to where to reopen international routes’ is this will depend on several aspects, but mainly it will depend on countries capability to manage travel flows and how they are going to follow up on those travelers once they get to countries.”
Ugarte noted that monitoring and tracing imported cases, which “I am sure those will come up” is oftentimes more “exhaustive” than internal or domestic cases.
He said while countries such as The Bahamas and others have adopted restrictive measures to international traffic, sectors of the economy have also been opened with eased restrictions — increasing the risk of clusters of cases emerging in-country.
“A dynamic and controlled, step by step decision with surveillance, with health services and with measures that are tailored to the reality is the way to go and I am sure that is the recommendation you will see on the document that will be published,” Ugarte added.
Jamaica experienced 14 new imported cases in a 24-hour period shortly after reopening, according to Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who said all of these cases were from recent flights from the US.
Jamaica opened up its borders to commercial carriers on June 15.
While travelers are required to obtain travel authorization by completing a form, health screening and risk assessment by health authorities is undergone upon entry, and testing is done if a passenger is assessed as a high risk, according to US Embassy in Jamaica.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic remain COVID-19 hotspots in the region with over 4,700 and 24,100 respectively.
PAHO said it remains “extremely concerned” about these jurisdictions.