By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
LOCKDOWNS have been a “useless tool” in the hands of the Minnis administration, insisted Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis yesterday, as he urged officials to allow free COVID-19 testing for all Bahamians.
Mr Davis said as the country is losing the fight against the potentially deadly respiratory disease, the government needed to act now to erase the “sorry state of affairs” that has worsened the situation.
While he said the government needed a feasible action plan that includes free testing for every Bahamian, he said the party would not stand behind another complete lockdown of New Providence in the absence of complete data to support why the move is being considered.
Yesterday PLP Deputy Leader Chester Cooper said local businesses could not afford another lockdown.
The PLP’s recommendations also include expanding contact tracing to 250 tracers in the capital, 50 in Grand Bahama and 10 each at Bimini, Eleuthera, Abaco and Exuma.
The recommendations were to be presented to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, government officials and international health organisations yesterday. However, that meeting was rescheduled to Monday due to a scheduling issue.
“We cannot support an initiative and we don’t have all the data or information that informs that initiative,” Mr Davis said during the PLP’s monthly omnibus press conference.
“What I can say as I stand here (is) previous lockdowns have proved useless. After every lockdown we’ve had spikes, not a containment or flattening of the effect of COVID-19. So, the question is: is that an effective measure being employed by this government or is it that putting this tool in their hands just demonstrates or reveals how incompetent they are to deal with the pandemic?”
Mr Davis added: “Lockdowns in The Bahamas have not proven to produce any results. We understand what is going on in other jurisdictions and in those jurisdictions the lockdowns have worked, but has it worked here? We have had waves and waves since the lockdown.
“When we reopened in July the number of cases were just under 100 (then). Now today it’s near 5,000 and we’ve had lockdowns since, at least two.
“So, what are the results of a lockdown? It’s a useless tool in the hands of this government.”
The Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP also said every Bahamian has a right to be tested for COVID-19 and this testing should be free.
He acknowledged this undertaking would be expensive. However, Mr Davis said it would not be as expensive as the failure to stop COVID-19 has been.
“A major error of this government has been to focus testing only on symptomatic individuals.
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 50 percent of COVID-19 transmission occurs before the onset of symptoms. That means in The Bahamas, by the time we’ve tested someone, and returned their results, they’ve likely already passed the virus to many other Bahamians.
“In addition, 40 percent of COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic – that means people have the virus, but don’t know they have it, and don’t know they’re spreading it. No wonder cases keep growing here.
“The PLP’s COVID-19 task force has repeatedly called for a substantial expansion of testing. As we have said since April, testing is the only way to make an invisible virus visible. If any Bahamian suspects they may have been exposed to the virus, they should be able to get tested for free and those results should be returned quickly.
“We should be encouraging and supporting testing, not throwing up obstacles. The ability to keep yourself and your family and co-workers safe should not depend on your ability to pay for a test. It is a serious hardship for most Bahamians to isolate themselves from family and from their places of work. Most will not do so without a positive test result. Would this be expensive to implement? Yes. But not as expensive as the failure to stop COVID has been.
“We need a substantial increase in the personnel and resources devoted to testing. Testing centres should be established across our islands with a special focus on emerging hotspots. Rapid antigen testing can be one part of our testing arsenal in order to identify positive cases quickly.”
The party’s recommendations also include the establishment of a government facility for isolation where people can safely stay until they no longer have the virus; ensuring that all clinics in the Family Islands are equipped with the tools necessary to treat COVID-19; protocols that protect indoor facilities against airborne transmission and moving activities outdoors; and beefing up resources at hospitals and clinics.
For his part, Mr Cooper said the business community is very concerned about the prospects of facing another lockdown.
“The lockdowns have been painful for business, for employees, for employers who’ve had to make very difficult decisions. Small businesses in particular have experienced significant pain in terms of not being able to generate any revenue — the little that may be available to them. So they are extremely concerned. The business community understands that COVID is real and the crisis continues, but the reality on the ground indicates that they have ongoing fixed expenses and very little revenues and the greater and the deeper the lockdowns the more difficult it will be for business,” the Exuma and Ragged Island MP said yesterday.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis hinted that tougher measures for New Providence and possibly Abaco may be on the way due to rising cases. He said he would update the nation after a series of meetings with international experts and health officials this week.