NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While the country must open its borders for economic activity, Former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands warned against allowing people – residents or foreigners – to enter the country without being tested for COVID-19.
The government announced last week that stakeholders plan to ‘test the market’ during a phased opening on July 15, as the country moves towards officially reopening to international commercial travel on July 1.
“I do not support a policy of open borders to untested individuals,” Sands said, during his contribution to the 2020/2021 budget debate.
“Especially if most of these persons travel from those locales known to have a high prevalence of COVID-19. Those that come legally come from a high incidence country.
“Yes, we need to restore our economy, but we should not [and] cannot play Russian roulette.”
He said while it is hoped that the worst is over, “Hope and prayers are not effective economic or public health strategies”.
Sands continued, “We should open, but we must do so deliberately, cautiously and carefully and we should do so with data.
“I do not support a policy that requires Bahamian citizens and residents to be tested – that does not place the same level of scrutiny on visitors. If we test any, we test all.
“And we must test, more than we are doing now.
“That said, if we open, we test – even if we must move heaven and earth to build the capacity.”
Sands resigned last month after revelations surfaced that he allowed six Americans to disembark a plane in New Providence – with a donation of 2,500 test swabs – despite the country’s border closure.
The six residents were not tested before entering the country and were allowed to quarantine at home.
The prime minister termed the move a ‘breach of protocol’.
However, in a tell-all with the Nassau Guardian’s “Perspective” by Sharon Turn on Monday, Sands revealed intimate details on what he claimed led to his resignation from Cabinet.
The Bahamas recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 15.
As of yesterday, the number of confirmed cases stood at 103 with 11 deaths.
So far, some 2237 tests have been conducted.
Health officials have advised that the curve has been flattened.
But Sands noted that more testing is paramount. He once again underscored that there was and still remains a series of challenges with the country’s testing capacity.
“The Bahamas has had challenges with every step of this process, swabs, RNA extraction kits, lab reagents and RT-PCR kits,” he said.
“As a result, we have not been able to test as widely as we wished to or needed to test.
“A number of persons who met the clinical case definitions for COVID-19 could not be tested and were not tested.”
He said “without a robust and consistent ability to test and definitively screen, isolate and track” the virus, Bahamians can and should expect a second wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
Sands advised the to seek to create a COVID-19 safe destination for tourism.
“Let us write the book on COVID-19 free vacation destinations, he said. But have the data to prove it.
“As the supply chain challenges correct, create a local industry that tests constantly and maintains a secure but robust database of persons who have valid COVID-19 checks.”