Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Heath Minister Dr Duane Sands (left).
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the government will not “take any chances” with the deadly coronavirus and will use all the resources needed to protect residents from the disease.
“Public health is an absolute priority,” he said at a press conference yesterday following meetings with local and regional officials. “We take this outbreak very seriously.”
He spoke on a day the Caribbean recorded its first case of the COVID-19: a 62-year-old Italian man who arrived in the Dominican Republic on February 22 without showing symptoms.
For now, the Bahamian government is not restricting travel from Italy but is warning residents against non-essential travel to that country, Iran and South Korea — all countries experiencing outbreaks of the disease. Travel restrictions related to China have been in effect since January 30.
“As a husband, father and grandfather, the outbreak of COVID-19 is a matter of grave concern,” Dr Minnis said. “As a doctor it is equally concerning. I have instructed this government and its health officials in particular to do everything in our power to combat, communicate and if needed contain this health risk.”
Dr Minnis said CARICOM leaders discussed management of the virus via video conferencing yesterday, “including strengthening existing protocols for seaports, and aligning best practices in the region.”
“Leaders also considered whether a regional rapid response team should be reestablished to provide assistance across the region to countries that are in need,” he said.
Dr Pearl McMillan, chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health, said because the virus has spread to more than 50 countries, “there is heightened awareness that the possibility of the introduction of COVID-19 into the Bahamas can become a reality.”
She said as of last week an in-country laboratory capable of testing for the virus has been established.
The country has about 50 diagnostic testing kits, she said, with more on order.
“We have enough in country to do the required testing to determine whether someone who presents with the symptoms, some respiratory symptoms and the necessary epidemiological link (and) the history of travel, we can test,” she added.
According to Dr McMillan, officials are finalising a plan for managing people who need hospital care and will designate community clinics for evaluating people who do not require hospital care.
She said the Ministry of Health has ample supplies of personal protective equipment for frontline staff.
Asked about the sufficiency of hospital beds, ventilators and isolation spaces to deal with an outbreak of the virus, she said officials have begun bringing hospital preparedness up to the required level.
“What we know is that in most cases thus far from the China experience, about 80 percent will not require hospital care,” she said. “For the 20 percent we are putting in place facilities for isolation. We would’ve actually identified on the hospital compound a modular facility that we can use to ensure we can isolate should we need to and provide the necessary level of care.”
Dr Minnis said Cabinet ministers who were scheduled to travel to areas experiencing outbreaks have had their travel plans cancelled.
Up to press time last night, there were 88,590 reported cases of the coronavirus and 3,050 deaths. More than 45,000 people have recovered from the disease, which has a mortality rate of about two percent, according to reports.
Last night, the Ministry of Health said the number of people in local quarantine had dropped to two.