PAHO suggests election rallies, rather than voting process presents more risk for COVID transmission

PAHO suggests election rallies, rather than voting process presents more risk for COVID transmission

PAHO: “The election may provide opportunities for higher transmission.”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Notwithstanding record-level coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in The Bahamas, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director of Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte said election campaigning venues where it is difficult to maintain social distancing presents more risk of transmission of COVID-19 than voting on the day of the general election.

Responding to questions from the media about having a safe election during the dire surge, Ugarte said the right to vote in a general election and the right to be safe and control the pandemic are both important.

“It is important to highlight that there is a right to vote, to elect the national officials and also the right to health, to control the pandemic,” Ugarte said during PAHO’s weekly press briefing.

“In this regard, there have been many elections where PAHO has been providing technical, operational and guidance to reduce the transmission during the process of the election.

“We’ve seen where the higher transmission occurs during the campaign, rather than [on] the day of the election.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director of Health Emergencies Dr Ciro Ugarte. (FILE PHOTO)

“So, it is important to avoid situations where the physical distancing is very difficult to maintain, and in that regards to use masks all the time, and of course, use also other measures, including the hand sanitization.

“It is important also to assess the situation of transmissibility and look to the health services, the availability of beds, both hospitalizations beds and ICU beds, so if there is an increase in the number of cases for several reasons including the transmission that is ongoing in most of the countries in the Caribbean, in Central America.

“We need to emphasize that this situation, the election, may provide opportunities for higher transmission.”

Urgarte said it is important that electoral committees hold the general election in The Bahamas in a way that promotes adherence to public health measures to mitigate COVID-19.

He also recommended sensitization of those facilitating voting and eligible voters on all health and safety protocols for the election.

“In that regard, it is extremely important for the candidates to take this COVID-19 context in a serious manner because they will protect the population at the same time that they will move on the election process.”

The Parliamentary Registration Department met with health officials yesterday afternoon as part of ongoing dialogue to ensure the health measures of the general election.

The department is expected to make an announcement well ahead of the advanced poll on September 9.

Both the Free National Movement (FNM) and Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) opted to hold drive-in rallies that would allow for their message to get across to the electorate and supporters, while adhering to health protocols to mitigate against the virus.

However, the PLP announced this week that it would pull out of all its plans for drive-in rallies, citing surging infections and the healthcare sector at capacity with hospitalized COVID-19 cases as reasons for the decision.

But FNM Chairman Carl Culmer said its drive-thru rally campaigns promote social distancing and remain safe.

He also labeled the PLP’s move “hypocritical”, pointing out that the party had a motorcade in Southern Shores and other areas following the proverbial ringing of the bell by the prime minister last week.

The FNM will hold a drive-in rally at West Logwood Road, Grand Bahama on Friday.

The rally will be stream live on radio and rebroadcasted by several media outlets.

A notice of the event reads: “Strict COVID protocols enforced. Distancing and masks required.”

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.