Scores of immigration officers test positive for COVID-19

Scores of immigration officers test positive for COVID-19
Elsworth Johnson, Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration (FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Immigration minister Elsworth Johnson yesterday confirmed “no less than 30” Immigration officers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Johnson declined further comment when pressed for more details ahead of a Cabinet meeting.

Director of Immigration Clarence Russell yesterday confirmed some 29 immigration officers have have had to quarantine during the pandemic.

Russell declined comment on how many officers have tested positive for the virus due to “medical confidentiality”.

Yesterday, Deron Brooks, vice president of The Bahamas Customs and Immigration Allied Workers Union(BCIAWU), reiterated concerns over the safety of immigration and customs workers on the frontlines.

Brooks said customs and immigration officers are faced with a certain level of risk and hazard during detention, arrest, and interdiction exercises.

“It’s a certain level of occupational hazard, it comes with the territory,” he said.

“This is now the world we live in now. We are going to be exposed to some things.

“The officers are very happy to do their jobs, they go above and beyond the call of duty.

“They are not running from any kind of responsibility, but if they are going to be put in harm’s way, then at least you should try to equip them with the basic things that they need to have a fighting chance.

“We are not considered essential services, but we perform an essential service.”

He said there is a need to look at increasing the officers’ insurance coverage and increasing the level of PPE available.

“The basic things that immigration officers have, it does not seem to be adequate at this time,” Brooks said.

“What we are looking at is something that medical personnel would be equipped with, which would increase the level of safety. It probably wouldn’t make it 100 percent, but if we could increase the level of safety it would be better.”

Brooks said he could not confirm whether immigration officers have access to that level of equipment.

Immigration officers dressed in PPE. Photo courtesy of Dir. Clarence Russell

Russell told Eyewitness News yesterday, “At peak…the Department of Immigration has had as many as 29 in quarantine at any one time, regrettably”.

He also indicated that workers have been provided with adequate PPE.

Speaker to reporters outside Cabinet yesterday, Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson spoke to the latest apprehension of 44 Haitian migrants in the Exuma Cays over the weekend.

Johnson praised for immigration officers for their sacrifice and selfless services.

“There are any number of them who have tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing our best to provide them with all of the care that we can reasonably provide in the circumstances,” he said.

“I’m really grateful for them and for them staying the course.”

He assured that migrants will be given fair and humane treatment.

“It’s rather unfortunate that in these difficult times that people find it necessary to risk their lives and travel from a country they love for a better way of life,” he said.

“…I want to say to Bahamians, this is not just something that is happening in a vacuum, there are some dubious people apart of this and we are looking to see how we can deal with that.”