Minister of Health Renward Wells.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
and TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
WITH a new strain of COVID-19 spreading in parts of England, Health Minister Renward Wells said while there are no immediate plans to impose a travel ban against the UK, officials will continue to closely monitor the situation.
The mutation is said to be 70 percent more contagious than other strains of the coronavirus.
“Well, you’re speaking about the virulent strain that is now in the UK, the southern part of the UK and spreading,” Mr Wells said before going into a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
“It is not more virulent, it’s not more deadly than the current COVID that we’re experiencing though it transmits much more readily, much more easily. But we’ve had other strains of COVID also if you remember back in February, March and in Italy, there was a particular strain in Italy that was extremely infectious as well.”
Mr Wells said officials are watching the situation, but said there are no direct flights currently into this country from the UK.
Those flights are expected to resume in February, he said.
“The government of the Bahamas, the Ministry of Health is keeping our eye on the circumstances in the UK. Currently, I do not believe that we have any direct flights from the UK.
“I think those flights are supposed to start again in February and so, we’re just observing it. We’re seeking to ensure that we maintain the health protocols that we have in place that anyone who’s coming into the country has to be able to take the RT-PCR test before they come in. So, we’re seeking to deal with this particular strain at the borders.”
Meanwhile in an interview with The Tribune yesterday, former Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said if we allow travellers into the country from places where the new strain exists, it is possible the mutation will be imported.
He also said he would not be surprised if Bahamian officials do place immigration restrictions on travellers from the United Kingdom due to the new strain.
He stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the government, however, but only offering his personal opinion.
“I think that it’s very important that we understand that no man is an island,” Dr Sands told The Tribune. “As long as we have persons that are travelling from the United Kingdom, Australia or any place where these variants are, that we could potentially import the new strain. And, it is one of the reasons why so many countries have imposed a travel restriction on travellers from the UK.
“It speaks to our extreme vulnerability to what is happening elsewhere. We didn’t create the novel coronavirus, but we certainly had a huge negative impact on the Bahamas. We have lost (169) souls plus we’ve had more than 7,700 confirmed cases and probably many more. Our economy has taken a beating. There are people that are under employed, unemployed, homeless and hungry. We cannot be certain what is going to come into our borders. We live and die on the back of tourism so the only thing that we can do is to be as cautious.”
He also said: “. . .I will not be surprised if immigration restrictions are put on the United Kingdom.”
Several countries have placed border restrictions on the UK since the new strain was reported.
Dr Sands noted that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bahamas was one of the first countries in the world to put immigration restrictions on people coming from China, where the virus originated, and other countries. He said many countries followed suit as the Bahamas was ahead of the game in terms of the restrictions.