By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
HEALTH officials say people have tried to enter the Bahamas with fake COVID-19 documents, prompting a police investigation.
Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, coordinator of the government’s COVID-19 task-force, could not say how many people have used fake documents to enter or try to enter the country since the borders were reopened on July 1, but she said during a press conference yesterday that “government officials are on high alert for cases of suspected forgery, tampering or altering of required documents and are prepared to take action if necessary.”
Senior police officials declined to comment on the investigation when contacted yesterday.
Dr Dahl-Regis also revealed that the country recorded three new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, including a female New Providence resident with a history of travel who is isolating at home and two men in Grand Bahama who are also isolating, bringing the country’s total to 116.
Although there have been two new cases of COVID-19 on New Providence in the last week, Dr Dahl-Regis said there is insufficient evidence to conclude an outbreak of the virus is happening on the island. Grand Bahama, however, is experiencing an outbreak, having recorded eight new cases in the last six days.
Dr Frank Bartlett, head of Grand Bahama’s COVID-19 task force, said officials have not determined what kind of COVID-19 transmission is happening on the island, be it clusters or community spread.
He said: “At this point in time it’s very hard to say we have established sustained community transmission.”
Asked whether a lockdown of Grand Bahama is being considered, he said: “To make a recommendation, we still have to gather more information. At this point in time it’s too early to say what type of transmission (is occurring). We are dealing with the influx of people bringing disease into the country.”
He said the recent Grand Bahama cases included a 33-year-old unemployed woman who presented to an Accident & Emergency Department with a one day history of headache and diarrhoea; a 21-year-old undocumented immigrant who was intercepted by the US Coast Guard and detained for two days before being brought into the island; a 51-year-old man who was a known contact of a previous case; and a 46-year-old female employed at Pizza Hut who had a history of fatigue, fever, shortness of breath and diarrhea.
He said 26 co-workers of the Pizza Hut employee have been evaluated and five of them have been quarantined. Another recent case is a 27-year-old man with respiratory symptoms and a fever who was in contact with his sister, a woman who returned to the country on a June 30 repatriation flight along with her 16-year-old daughter. Although the policy was that ten-day old negative COVID-19 tests were required for entry to the country, Dr Bartlett said yesterday the women were allowed on the repatriation flight with 12 day old tests. He said they were subsequently quarantined and then re-tested.
Dr Dahl-Regis said during a press conference nearly two weeks ago that Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis would shortly announce changes to the 10pm to 5am curfew. However, when he spoke in the House of Assembly last week, the prime minister defended the curfew instead. Dr Dahl-Regis suggested yesterday that Dr Minnis has not yet accepted the recommendation of health officials that the curfew be adjusted.
“We have not changed our recommendations to the prime minister,” she said, “and we still await his final decision as to what he does with those recommendations and it is not really comforting to the health team, given this new outbreak in Grand Bahama, that he is going to be minded to change it but stay tuned, I think he has an update to provide this upcoming weekend.” Dr Minnis is expected to have a national address on Sunday.
Health officials were asked if they are considering banning travel to and from the United States in light of the new COVID-19 cases that have a travel history. Dr Dahl-Regis said this is not the current recommendation.
“We determine the risk category for each applicant for a travel visa rather than have a determination of state by state,” she said. “We use a list as published by the World Health Organization where it’s determined where there is community spread and (if it is) greater than ten percent in the population you get a score. This is a moving target. We’ve had to adjust the risk stratification seven times already. Because the experiences are changing constantly, we have to make the necessary adjustments. What we see at the present time is the spread originating from Bahamians who have travelled to (certain states in the US).”
Health officials said over 350 people are being monitored by Hubbcat, the software that allows authorities to track people who are in quarantine. Twenty-three of the people being monitored are in Grand Bahama.