By EARYEL BOWLEG
RELATIVES of Bahamians in China have been left with very little answers about evacuating loved ones from the Asian country amid an outbreak of a new deadly strain of the coronavirus.
The Tribune understands that family members who attended last week’s meeting hosted by the Ministry of Health heard little talk about evacuation and the focus was mainly on health, which was disappointing considering some in attendance were hoping to hear plans of bringing loved ones home.
Health Minister Dr Duane Sands told this newspaper he had to defer questions on the topic of evacuations, as it was a discussion made by other relevant ministries and Cabinet. However, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield revealed that the Ministry of Health can make the call on removing Bahamian nationals.
“Evacuations (are) being handled by the officials at the Ministry of Health,” Mr Henfield said yesterday. “They deem necessary when it’s time for people to be evacuated or the protocol has been fully implemented that people could return to the Bahamas.”
While Dr Sands indicated that people at last week’s meeting wanted to speak with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Henfield indicated that he is open to having these discussions.
Mr Henfield added: “These people should be contacted and meet with the ministry officials so that they can hear what we know…well, I’ve given instructions to my ministry since last week that this should happen.”
Several countries — including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia — have evacuated their citizens from China and have put travel restrictions in place. Last week, The Bahamas also mandated that non-residents, regardless of nationality, will be denied entry to this country if they have visited China in the past 20 days. Returning residents who have visited China in that timeframe will be quarantined for 14 days.
In response, Chinese Chargé d’Affaires to The Bahamas Haigang Yin said China does not support such travel restrictions.
Mr Henfield said that “China has its position - The Bahamas’ position is on the record.”
Meanwhile, Dr Esther de Gourville, a representative for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands for the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), explained the headache the travel measures can bring.
“Travel bans (are) discouraged because it causes unnecessary expense and logistic support that’s needed for the outbreak. However, within the public health emergency of international concern, the declaration, it was stated that countries should make their risk assessments based on their situation and that they need to make the discussions in the interest of their population.
“We are impressed that countries are making the necessary preparedness and response plans and measures are being taken to contain the outbreak,” she added.
Last night, it was reported that there were 14-15 Bahamians in local quarantine. More than 100 Bahamians are living in China, according to officials.
According to the BBC, China is introducing “more restrictive measures to try to control the outbreak”.
Beijing has banned group dining for events such as birthdays and weddings while cities such as Hangzhou and Nanchang are limiting how many family members can leave home each day, the BBC reported yesterday.
“Hubei province, the worst hit by the virus, has switched off lifts in high-rise buildings to discourage residents from going outside. Its capital, Wuhan, has a lack of beds and equipment, one senior city official said. Despite the rapid construction of two hospitals, the volume of patients is causing severe strain. Reports on social media say the Wuhan government is to carry out door-to-door temperature checks on residents,” the BBC added.
The virus outbreak has killed more than 560 people and infected over 28,000 — most of them in China.