By EARYEL BOWLEG
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands predicted a possible worst-case scenario of 400 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in The Bahamas, but stressed if the disease spreads here most people will not need hospital admission.
His comments came shortly before the World Health Organisation officially declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic.
While addressing church leaders at the Melia hotel, the minister said the outbreak is “very serious” as it is impacting trade and the economy. “The cruise industry is basically on its knees,” Dr Sands said. “The airline industry is almost on its knees. We live and die on the backs of tourism.”
Dr Sands also said an American tourist was tested this week for the virus, however those results came out negative. Up to press time, there were no suspected or confirmed cases of the virus in the country.
However the health minister estimated less than 100 people will have to be hospitalised in The Bahamas if the country was in a similar situation as Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
He explained: “The worst case scenario, let’s say is Wuhan, China where there have been 80,000 cases. Wuhan has a population of about 15 million, but if we say out of the Chinese population of 1.4 billion…that maybe 80 million people contributed to that 80,000 cases and then you extrapolate to the population of the Bahamas which is 400,000 people.
“Doing that arithmetic, you would get a worst-case scenario of some 400 cases in The Bahamas. Now we also know that out those 400 cases, 80 percent of people don’t even know they have it, okay. That’s four out of every five….10 percent of people wind up with serious infection and wind up in hospital and about five percent of people wind up critically ill.
“So even if we have a Wuhan-like scenario in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, we’re looking at hospitalised, potentially less than 100 people and the Intensive Care Unit, deaths, etc worst-case scenario based on the Wuhan scenario even less.”
Dr Sands said according to the global data, the disease is more of a threat to the elderly, particularly killing older, male patients with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease etc. People who are 80-years-old have anywhere between a 14 percent and 20 percent chance of dying if infected, said the health minister.
“If you are between ten and 19 and you get infected with coronavirus, you have a one in 500 chance of dying. If you are less than 40-years-old, and the cut offs vary, you have about a one in 250 chance of dying if you get infected,” he said.
The minister also put out a buyer’s warning as he noticed people online taking advantage of a frightened public by selling two masks and a hand sanitizer for $48. He said wearing a face mask does not provide any protection from COVID-19, but buying masks limits the number of stock for people who need them such as border protection officials.
Outside of Cabinet on Tuesday, the minister said a six-bed unit on the compound of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) was in the process of being built and the design for a 20-bed intensive care unit had been agreed upon. He gave more details yesterday that those units would be completed in six weeks.
Asked about the Family Islands’ coronavirus plan, Dr Sands explained every clinic on those islands has identified an isolation room, but the emphasis is greater on islands with international ports that see more international travelers.
“Every clinic has been given the protocol. They have access to the public health team and we can walk any doctor, any nurse, any health professional through the steps that they need to take,” he explained.
Asked about the issue of self-quarantine, Dr Sands said no one should try to treat themselves if they suspect they have the virus. Instead they should see a doctor and call the ministry’s hotline.
Despite officials telling people not to panic, yesterday, a video circulated online showing people outside of the Fleming Street Clinic as it was feared there was an infected person there. However, staff at the clinic told The Tribune that there were no suspected cases or evacuation at the facility.
The WHO said Wednesday that there are 118,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths from COVID-19. The virus has spread to every continent except for Antarctica.
“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
He also said: “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”