CLARIFICATION: HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands has asked us to record that, in the print edition of the story below, a quote attributed to him in the House of Assembly was not fully reported. The statement we carried quoted the minister as saying that as our neighbours in the US and Canada recorded more cases of the Chinese virus outbreak, then: "The further spread of the novel coronavirus to the Bahamas is a reality." This omitted two words which prefaced this quote, which were "concern regarding". “Concern regarding the further spread of the novel coronavirus to the Bahamas is a reality,” Dr Sands had said. The Tribune's headline on the story was: Virus reaching here 'a reality' We are happy to make this clarification.
By FARRAH JOHNSON
AS the deadly coronavirus continues to infect people worldwide, Minister of Health Dr Sands told Parliament yesterday that “concern regarding the further spread” of the virus to Bahamian shores “is a reality”.
While the minister said there have been no “suspected, reported or confirmed” cases of the virus in the country to date, the “rapid spread” of the disease to the United States and Canada is enough to raise concerns about the possibility of the virus spreading locally. And after the government said there were no plans to evacuate Bahamians studying in Wuhan, Dr Sands revealed yesterday officials are “finalising the logistical plans” for those studying in China who wish to return home.
He said it is likely they will be quarantined upon their return but did not give a specific timeline for when this will occur.
During a press conference at the Ministry of Health yesterday, the minister said a “number of students” have expressed a desire to evacuate China.
“Every country that has repatriated their citizens has done so with an abundance of concern but with a significant dose of caution,” Dr Sands said.
“And so the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France et cetera have agreed to place those citizens in quarantine (and) it is likely that The Bahamas will do the same thing.
“We are now finalising all of the logistical plans for welcoming our citizens back home, but clearly it needs to be done in a way that is safe and in accordance with best practices in public health.”
Nine Bahamian students are studying in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Saturday. However, only five are currently in the city as schools in China are on break.
Speaking in Parliament later in the day, Dr Sands said: “Concern regarding the further spread of the novel coronavirus to the Bahamas is a reality.”
He added: “The global nature of travel and trade increases the risk of rapid transmission around the world in a very short time which can possibly result in a pandemic.
“Even one case of this novel coronavirus entering The Bahamas will be detrimental to the very fabric of our country, impacting all sectors.”
Dr Sands said the Ministry of Health is “building on the foundations” of its “preparedness efforts” for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the H1N1 virus and Ebola to prepare for the new strain of the coronavirus.
“In tandem with our global and regional partners, The Bahamas is ensuring that our borders, health agencies and all stakeholders are prepared to respond in the event we are faced with a case,” he said.
“The leaders and technical staff of the Ministry of Health have met, were briefed and tasked with responsibilities to ensure that necessary measures are in place to monitor, detect and contain the spread of this virus if it reaches our shores.
“We are also working closely with all government departments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to ensure we have a coordinated and effective response.”
Dr Sands said he plans to meet with representatives from the various ministries and government departments today to discuss his ministry’s “preparedness and response plans” as it relates to the virus.
“The Ministry of Health is in constant contact with our World Health Organisation (WHO) and PanAmerican Health Organisation (PAHO) partners to receive ongoing notifications about the virus, its impact and to receive technical assistance to fine tune our response efforts,” he added.
“The ministry is also liaising and collaborating with members of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for regional preparedness, testing and laboratory recommendations. Consultation with the Centre for Disease Control is also ongoing.”
Dr Sands said since WHO does not recommend any “restrictions on travel or trade amongst nations,” he advises persons who must travel in the affected region to take the necessary precautions.
“Be diligent, pay attention and equip yourself with travel advisory information related to the 2019 novel coronavirus before you travel,” he urged.
“...Be ready to give your full travel history to healthcare providers. All persons returning to the Bahamas from China will be monitored.
“Ongoing surveillance of our borders is critical,” he added. “Monitoring at all our ports will be enhanced, our Public Health Screening Unit at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) will be fully utilised and all port surveillance officers are linked to our National Communicable Disease Service Unit.
“At our major ports, we anticipate that the targeted distribution of information cards to travelers has already commenced. The Ministry of Health has confirmed that we have ample quantities of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the staff and we are in the process of acquiring supplies for laboratory testing for the virus.”
Since a vaccine has not been developed for the prevention of the virus, Dr Sands said his ministry is utilising a document published by the WHO which “outlines interim guidelines to assist countries with preparing for and managing the coronavirus.”
“The Ministry of Health is ready to ensure the health protection of all residents and visitors to The Bahamas,” he said.
“Our aim is to be prepared for whatever potential health emergencies that come to our shores and to limit the effect on our population.”
The WHO reported yesterday that the number of confirmed cases of the virus increased to 6,065 worldwide. More than 130 people have now died from the new coronavirus, however officials think the number could be higher.