By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
RESIDENTS in Abaco are concerned about COVID-19 reaching their communities after a case was confirmed in Grand Bahama on Tuesday.
“I’d say there’s absolutely a concern,” Central and South Abaco MP James Albury told The Tribune yesterday.
“There’s been a concern since we confirmed the first case in the country. Grand Bahama is a little closer to Abaco than Nassau, but I believe that everyone’s still concerned you know as we see it start to spread.
“It’s that much more important that we practice distancing and stay in line with the curfew and adhere to all of the advice of the medical professionals because as we know about COVID now, the ones who many have it or carry it, they may have very mild symptoms or present very little symptoms at all.”
His comments to this newspaper came after Health Minister Dr Duane Sands revealed on Tuesday that a woman in Grand Bahama with no significant recent travel history tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the fifth confirmed case in the country.
The woman has no link to the first confirmed case, according to health officials, who said they anticipate a surge in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.
While noting that most Abaco residents are complying with emergency orders, Mr Albury said the biggest challenge for officials on the island is trying to get the message across to the Haitian community.
“That is an issue we’re facing,” he said. “There have been attempts to communicate that to the community, to the Haitian-Bahamian community. So (Monday), I actually would’ve been in Abaco and had a meeting with essential personnel.
“And we discussed some initiatives as far as trying to reach that community better but also making sure that those persons are following the law just like everyone else is expected to do.
“…But that was specifically brought up (in the meeting), especially where we know in Marsh Harbour, some areas where persons of the Haitian-Bahamian community are congregating in close proximity.
“So, we have to make some better efforts to reach out to them and plans are in place to do that..it’s a very dangerous situation but that is a matter that was discussed with police and the law intends to be enforced, no matter who they are.”
Added to these concerns is the impact that COVID-19 will have on the recovery efforts on the island, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in early September.
With the country’s attention now fixed on combating the virus, many residents there have voiced fears on social media that recovery efforts will be pushed aside indefinitely.
However, Mr Albury said while the COVID-19 threat will slow the speed of the recovery process, officials will not stop relief and rebuilding efforts.
“There’s no denying that there will be an impact,” he said. “That’s just the frank nature of the matter is when something like this is going around, there’s going to be an impact on the speed and efficiency of things.
“But as you’re probably aware, in the order itself, there is a special exemption on the movement and the work of people in the special economic recovery zones, which include Abaco and its cays, so construction crews and NGOs etc, anyone who is actively working as part of the reconstruction and restoration efforts, they are not prohibited by this order from continuing those efforts.
“Of course, they are doing their best to keep six feet between them and all the other proper procedures, but people are still working on that process.”
As it relates to those non-governmental (NGO) and relief agencies who left Abaco in response to the pandemic, Mr Albury said many of them still have plans to return.
“While we do have some NGOs that have pulled out, we still have some on the ground who are determined to stay and help us through this, not only in the reconstruction efforts but especially in regard to COVID-19, assisting us with setting up more advanced screening areas and some better personal protection equipment,” he said. “…(But) some of the NGOs who have left, it’s my understanding, of course this is all tentative and it’s ultimately up to them, but some of them do intend to return once we have seen the light at the end of this COVID tunnel.”