By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
FLORIDA’S public health emergency over two presumptive positive COVID-19 cases has at this time had no bearing on the Bahamas’ approach to dealing with the deadly virus, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands suggested yesterday.
The US Centres for Disease Control confirmed Florida’s first two new coronavirus cases yesterday.
The first patient is said to be a man in his 60s who is hospitalised in Manatee County. He has pneumonia and is in stable condition at a hospital. US officials said he did not travel to any affected areas, making it unclear how he contacted the virus. He is currently in isolation.
The second patient is a woman in her 20s in Hillsborough County. That individual recently returned from northern Italy. She is in stable condition and remains in isolation at home. However, despite the cases, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis said the overall threat to the public remains low.
Bahamian officials appear to have the same view, with Dr Sands telling The Tribune yesterday: “The government of The Bahamas, guided by the advice of the chief medical officer and the Ministry of Health, is aware of and paying vigilant attention to all the developments.
“No changes to our travel restrictions have been made. When they are they will be communicated formally.”
This comes as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Bahamians to monitor its regular bulletins and announcements concerning the increasing number of countries and jurisdictions experiencing high risk for exposure to the new strain of the coronavirus. The countries include Italy, Iran and South Korea. The ministry, as a result, advised the public that non-essential travel to these areas is strongly discouraged.
Persons who must travel should expect to be routinely screened and tested and, if necessary, quarantined for up to 14 days in those jurisdictions and subject to additional screening on return to The Bahamas.
Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Pearl McMillan said the Florida cases have made the situation a “little but more” concerning.
However, she said, the Bahamas has been at risk for some time considering the global picture.
There are 89,198 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide with 80,026 of them currently in mainland China.
While 45,175 cases are considered as recovered, there have been 3,048 deaths as a result of the virus.
She said: “The thing is the risk would have started a while back when we started having cases in a number of countries and in certain countries like in northern Italy and a couple other places. They are having ongoing transmission so when you think about the global picture we are at risk.
“Yes, Florida is at our back door and to some extent a little bit it is more concerning, but we have been at risk…the global picture changed a little while ago when we started having a number of countries (with infections). It’s now 50 plus countries that have cases, so that changed the picture from back then.
“If you don’t have to travel to places where they are having active transmission I think it’s about four or five of those places now, don’t travel if you don’t have to go to those places,” Dr McMillan also said.
“If you do travel and if you must travel then you should take the necessary precautions. That’s hand washing, making sure you cover your cough, your sneeze, step away from persons who maybe having respiratory symptoms.
“If we practise those things when you travel and move about regularly then you decrease the likelihood of you actually getting not only COVID-19 but influenza and other illnesses.”
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the government would take no chances with the deadly disease, adding all resources would be used to ensure residents are protected from the disease. He said public health is an absolute priority as he insisted the outbreak was being taken very seriously.
The prime minister’s comments came the same 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 Bahamas 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.