By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH no COVID-19 testing facilities yet identified for several Abaco cays, many residents there are expressing concern about travellers’ ability to meet the five-day antigen testing deadline.
Their concerns come after the country last week started its phased re-opening of the tourism industry, with the latest travel protocols mandating that visitors and returning residents produce a negative test no older than five days and have an approved Bahamas health travel visa.
While travellers are no longer required to take a COVID-19 rapid antigen test upon arrival, they must still do so on the fifth day of their visit – unless departing on day five.
There have been several locations identified on Abaco for the rapid antigen testing, including the Green Turtle Cay Club and Treasure Cay Clinic.
However, in such communities as Hope Town, Man-O-War, Guana Cay and Moore’s Island, there are no designated COVID-19 testing sites, prompting much concern among residents in these areas.
“We do not have anywhere in Hope Town to get tested,” said one concerned resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “The clinic here is not doing any testing and we don’t really quite understand why we can’t get tested at the new clinic. Why would you have a brand-new state-of-the-art clinic and not do any testing?”
Because there are no testing centres on these cays, returning residents and visitors to these communities will be required to travel to mainland Abaco five days after arrival to undergo the rapid antigen tests.
Failure to do so could result in a $1,000 fine or one month in prison.
Noting the absence of testing sites as a major “inconvenience” for the island’s inhabitants and its visitors, the resident said the move also has many implications that could potentially delay travellers from being administered the test on the fifth day of their visit, possibly putting islanders at risk.
“Tourism opened up the borders and allowed people to come and they say the five-day testing is in place but it’s virtually impossible to get a test here. One of the locations you can get tested is at (a local hotel) on Marsh Harbour but (that local hotel) is only accepting guests,” the resident explained.
“(A local doctor) is also doing it, but he’s only doing it on Wednesday, and you have to make an appointment and it’s not convenient. You have to catch a ferry, then you have to catch a cab and we don’t even have ferries running today so if today was the fifth day with no ferries running, they will automatically be charged $1,000 (via charter boat to travel to the mainland).”
Chief councillor for Hope Town, Man-O-War and Guana Cay, Jeremy Sweeting said the reason for there being no COVID-19 testing facilities on some cays is because there are no medical workers present in those communities.
“In some communities like, for example, Guana Cay and Man-O-War – they don’t have government medical personnel on island so they would need somebody appointed to receive training to assist in the administering in these tests,” he said when contacted by The Tribune.
“We have a clinic in Man-O-War but there is no government nurse or doctor that lives there so we would need someone from this community to offer to become an assistant to administer this test.”
However, he could not say why the Hope Town clinic is not being used to administer COVID-19 tests for travellers.
He agreed that there is a need for testing sites in these communities, especially before tourists arrive during the holiday seasons.
In many of the Abaco cays – where population sizes range from roughly between 300 to 400 – there is a strong second home owner market that plays a major role in driving the island’s economy.
Residents say many second homeowners have already expressed interest to visit the cays after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Knowing the nature of our second homeowners in Hope Town, Man-O-War and Guana Cay, thankfully we still have a couple of weeks to get these protocols right,” the chief councillor added.
“Will there be a few people who may come between then? I’m sure there will be, but the major influx of second homeowners will probably not come until after Thanksgiving and be here for Christmas so we really need to get this finalised within the next week.
“But it is my understanding that the government is trying to get this put in place and so I thank them for trying to make the necessary moves to make sure this testing gets put in place in each township.”
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, Central and South Abaco MP James Albury confirmed that work is already underway to have testing facilities identified in these communities.
He said: “So, what’s currently happening now is I am, myself working with the various local government representatives. What we are doing is we are identifying persons who would be employed to the 52-week programme, specifically to administer those tests so that they would go and receive the necessary training.
“…and what’s going on now is we’re finalising the names and then those persons will receive training on how to properly administer those tests.”
Mr Albury said the move will also help to alleviate some of the strain that is currently being placed on the island’s healthcare system.
He added: “The whole idea is not to only to make it convenient for people who live in these various areas but also to take some of the burden off of the main healthcare facility here because if we can do that, we can drastically cut down the amount of people who are being forced to go to the Marsh Harbour healthcare facility.”
Asked yesterday how soon the testing centres will be identified, he replied: “I will certainly hope that it’s as soon as possible. I’m not certain how long that training will take…but my hope is that it will be as soon as possible and that way those communities can have someone in place as soon as possible. “