By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday warned that one out of every 100 New Providence residents is infected with COVID-19 – and having had talks with international health experts, the government would talk to the business community over the next two days on its next move.
Dr Minnis’ comments came during a national address yesterday, where he said the country was averaging a death a day from COVID-19 and that current restrictive measures in place “are not achieving the desired results” for certain communities.
To help with charting the country’s way forward from the crisis, Dr Minnis said he had met the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization representative to The Bahamas, Dr Esther de Gourville, and that talks would now begin with members from the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation and the National COVID-19 Coordinating Committee on “specific strategies and the way forward”.
A PAHO/WHO representative will also brief Cabinet on Tuesday, he said, adding that the leader of the opposition and his team have also been invited to that meeting.
At the end of the meetings, Dr Minnis said he will subsequently update the nation on the recommendations made by international health experts, specifically as it relates for New Providence and Abaco – where cases continue to climb.
On Friday, health officials reported that one out of every 100 New Providence residents has been infected with the virus, with data suggesting that cases on the island could continue to climb in the days ahead.
Officials also acknowledged the confirmed cases on Abaco to be concerning.
The situation, Dr Minnis said, has placed a significant strain on the country’s healthcare system. He again urged Bahamians to not let their guards down after hitting out at reported large social gatherings with “large Junkanoo rush outs”.
Dr Minnis said only in unity can the nation defeat the COVID-19 threat, warning that “we must recommit on New Providence to full compliance with the rules.”
“Our best and most effective measure to control the spread of COVID-19 is our individual and collective behaviour and responsibility. National unity and the spirit of ‘we’ are essential in combating COVID-19,” he said. “But when we do not act together, this deadly virus sees an opportunity to exploit us and do damage to our individual and common good.
“When you fail to wear a mask or abide by other health measures, the virus may seize on this opportunity to harm you and through you, do harm to others.”
As a part of his government’s efforts to reduce further community transmission, Dr Minnis outlined new guidelines for laboratories conducting COVID-19 tests.
He said all will now be required to be registered with the Ministry of Health and adhere to the following guidelines.
“Each laboratory will be required to meet testing standards established by the Ministry of Health,” he said. “Laboratories will also be subject to periodic cross-referencing to ensure quality control. Laboratories will be prohibited from administering the COVID 19 RT PCR test unless the patient provides all identifying particulars required by the case identification form.
“Laboratories will now be required to turn around test results within a maximum of 48 hours.”
He also said the measures will also help produce a quicker turnaround time for test results.
Recognising that thousands continue to be affected by the pandemic, Dr Minnis said the government has decided to allocate $45 million for the extension of its assistance programmes to December to further help those most vulnerable.
This applies to its unemployment benefit programme and national food assistance initiative, the latter of which officials had previously said will end in October.
However, yesterday, the prime minister said: “Ten million dollars have been allocated for a second phase of the national food programme to the end of December 2020. This is a government sponsored programme to ensure that Bahamians receive food assistance in a timely and responsible manner.”
Yesterday, Dr Minnis also sought to explain the rationale behind the government’s decision to relax quarantine protocols for visitors and residents travelling to the country come November, saying officials “recognise that a balance must be found.”
“No protocol is perfect, and so we recognise that a balance must be found,” he added.
“The solution must work for everyone entering The Bahamas. By introducing rapid antigen tests upon arrival, and then again 96 hours into a traveller’s stay, we can more closely monitor and respond to any cases of the virus and act swiftly to contain its spread.”
In view of the new protocols, Dr Minnis said tourism officials are also in discussions with various insurance companies for the implementation of a traveller’s COVID-19 insurance to ensure that visitors “will be cared for appropriately and dispatched out of the country if necessary.”
He continued: “This means we can more confidently allow all visitors to move with less restrictions through the destination. With this approach, we can offer visitors a bit more true Bahamian experience they know and love, albeit while wearing a mask in public places and abiding by COVID-19 measures.”
He said the move will also allow workers in the industry to return to work faster, as many have suffered “greatly.”