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Testing Plan To Escape Covid 'Sledgehammer'

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Robert Myers

• New Coalition promises '700-800 times' more efficiency

• Pledges 70,000 virus testing kits at 'next week's end'

• Fines 'complete waste of time' on COVID violators

File pics of Robert Myers, Rupert Roberts

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A non-profit coalition yesterday unveiled an "end-to-end" workplace testing and management solution in a bid to help The Bahamas to escape the "sledgehammer approach" of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's (ORG) principal, said the Live with COVID Coalition (LWCC) - of which his group is part - has developed a technology-based screening and testing regime that will allow government entities, businesses, non-governmental organisations and churches to better protect their staff and customers from the pandemic.

He told Tribune Business that the Coalition will have 70,000 antigen COVID-19 testing kits, approved by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA), in The Bahamas by "the end of next week" as it prepares for the imminent launch of an initiative it hopes will lead to "a faster path to recovery" from the pandemic.

Mr Myers said the structure was designed to give all Bahamas-based entities, whether in the private or public sector, affordable access to relatively cheap mass testing that would be able to provide results within 15 minutes.

Arguing that this will be "700-800 times' more efficient" and rapid than the present testing regime, he added that it was designed to minimise "workplace disruption" by enabling employers to instantly detect which staff were COVID-19 positive and remove them from their premises to quarantine.

Those who prove negative can immediately be dispatched back to work, Mr Myers explained, improving company productivity while also allowing industries and firms to develop their own specific COVID-19 health and safety protocols and target which staff need to be tested more frequently.

While this regime will only be available to those signing-up with the Coalition, the ORG chief added that there were no fees for joining. Instead, companies have to sign-up with its electronic platform, state how many testing kits they will require and pay for those.

The Coalition's solution is being unveiled just as the Prime Minister considers increased COVID-restrictions, including another possible lockdown for New Providence and Grand Bahama. Mr Myers, warning that a complete lockdown will "destroy what's left of the economy", urged the Government to take "a more strategic and pinpoint approach" such as that provided by the Coalition's plan.

Describing fines for COVID-19 quarantine violators as "a complete waste of time", not least because many do not have the means to pay, he argued that those found guilty of such breaches should be made to complete their isolation in purpose-built facilities where they are "locked up".

"What we are concerned about is that any general lockdown is going to be detrimental to the private sector and public," Mr Myers added of ORG's position. "Our opinion is that, moving into 2021, it has to be a very strategic approach and, in our opinion, that means whatever we have to do to control the spread in hot spots......

"If the Government takes this sledgehammer approach they're going to destroy what's left of the economy. That [lockdowns] is clearly not sustainable long-term. It just does more damage at the back end. We just have to take this more strategic and pinpoint approach, which is what we said three months ago/

"Don't kill the fly with the sledgehammer; don't hit everybody with the 'stupid stick'. Go find the stupid people and deal with them. Those people who violate quarantine, put them in a secure place where they can be monitored," he added.

"Fines don't matter. They have no money to pay it. All you're doing is creating another problem. You let them out on a fine, and they'll be running around again. Fining is a complete waste of time. You have to lock them up in a quarantine facility, and then the law-abiding citizens have a chance to rescue their livelihoods, sustain their families and keep their jobs."

Mr Myers said that while there was no hard "proof", he and others kept on hearing stories of how COVID-19 persons and those supposed to be quarantining continued to go to their workplaces and move about freely - something he cited as a key factor behind the daily 50-100 person increase in new cases on New Providence.

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Rupert Roberts

These concerns were yesterday echoed by Rupert Roberts, Super Value's president, who said the supermarket chain had been forced to send home numerous employees who should have been quarantining after finding they had returned to work.

Describing himself as "violently against lockdowns", because they increased COVID-19's spread by stacking persons up at home and locations such as the food store, Mr Roberts nevertheless acknowledged that more restrictive measures were necessary to curb the virus' spread on New Providence.

"Something drastic has to be done," he told Tribune Business. "Medical has their work cut out. The way it is going now is going to ruin the health of the nation, it is going to ruin the economy. It has to stop. What I see is certainly not working.

"Unless people behave and stop we'll self-destruct, and I think the authorities have to take the necessary action to not just slow it down but bring COVID spread to an abrupt halt. I think the stress is getting to everybody. We've made our mistakes, but let's try and do the right thing."

Mr Roberts said the Prime Minister's national address on Sunday, in which he hinted at new restrictions, had not provoked any "panic shopping" as of yesterday. "I think that's because the public is confident there will be no lockdown," he added. "I feel the Government, from what happened last time, knows the public will not accept a lockdown.

"I think they learnt they can control it with better methods than a lockdown. It's something we all have to fight together, and I believe the Government and medical officials can do a better job and explain it better."

Mr Myers, meanwhile, explained that the Coalition's solution aimed to bridge the testing gap that had contributed to COVID-19's spread because persons and employers were unable to afford the $225 PCR test, and the results took too long to come back.

Pointing out that the tests provided through the Coalition will cost between $13.50 and $18 per go, Mr Myers said staff at all entities that joined its partnership will every morning take a web-based screening test that requires them to answer five questions before they go to work.

Answering 'no' to all these tests, which touch on areas such as a previous COVID-19 positive; recent travel; flu-like symptoms and contact with someone either sick or in quarantine, will enable a person to go straight to work. However, a 'yes' to any of these creates an immediate alert for an employer that the worker should be tested.

Mr Myers said the antigen test, which could be taken at a workplace if it had the necessary facilities, or a "partner facility", would provide results within 15 minutes to allow the person to either go to work or be quarantined.

"This web-based reporting tool allows you to manage who's tested and what the results are," he told Tribune Business. "The employer can better manage who's at work and who's out of work, and manage getting them back to work.

"The benefit of this is you're able to do the test at a cost of $18 and do it quickly. They receive the results before they go back to work, and don't even have to go home. What this is is far less workplace disruption and far less cost, and from a health standpoint you are removing an infected person from the workplace more rapidly.

"We think it provides 700-800 times more efficiency than the present system because in 15 minutes you can remove them from the workforce," Mr Myers added. "We're trying to make this extremely efficient and cost effective so people take it up.

"The tests arrived this week. We'll have 20,000 tests available in the market with another 50,000 coming next week. By the end of next week we'll have 70,000 on the island. I think it'll have a significant impact on businesses.

"Nobody has come up with a good testing and monitoring strategy like this. ORG/LWCC is the first group we know of to put forward an end-to-end solution for screening, testing and monitoring.

Mr Myers said the scheme had been put together in just seven to eight weeks by the Coalition and its partner entities, which include Aliv, Doctors Hospital, industry associations and trade unions. Support had been received from the Government, Ministry of Tourism and Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), with interest in joining the platform strong.

Comments

joeblow 3 months, 1 week ago

Antigen tests have their limitations.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...">https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158...

We don't only need to identify those who ARE currently infected, we also need to identify those who have ALREADY been infected and have recovered from the infection as well. It just makes more sense to me that we should be doing BOTH simultaneously. Maybe the country will figure it out before Bahamians illegally migrate to Haiti to improve their standard of living!

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John 3 months, 1 week ago

When the most protected person in the United States and high ranking officials in this country are contracting the Corona virus, it questions exactly how contagious is the virus, are there other ways it is being spread and what other measures can be taken to combat the virus, that are not already being taken and except full lockdowns of the population. A school of thought is that a population has to be managed after a lockdown or even a series of them. Take for example New York vs China. New York had one of the strictest lockdowns in the United States. But now as they struggle to reopen their communities and economy, there are serious outbreaks of Corona and activities like schools and colleges and restaurants have to be shut down again. And so it’s like chasing fires. While one is being battled, others break out. China seems to understand this and appears to have mastered the art of controlling Corona. First it’s boarders are secure. Everyone going out or coming in or re- entering the country is tested and retested. If you test positive, you are quarantine. Quarantined under strict, containment like conditions. And these two factors seem to be the biggest contributors to the problem in this country. The borders and too porous and not properly monitored and controlled. And persons that are supposed to be in quarantine are not in quarantine but moving around as freely as a jay bird. From the policemen to the store clerk. And measures need to be taken to more strictly enforce quarantine. Another measure China does is it doesn’t wait for numbers to explode before it takes action. If someone in a household tests positive, that entire household is immediately locked down. There’s contact tracing and all the contact that are located are taken into quarantine. Strict enforcement. And if there’s evidence of community spread, that particular community is put on lockdown and Chinese army is there to ensure no one enters or no one leaves. The people in the affected area only have access to the businesses, banks etc that is within the lockdown area. Anything, like food and medical supplies coming in is done so under strict safety protocols. Unlike the family islands. The population on New Providence is mix up like conch salad. Someone living in Pinewood may be working in a store in Cable Beach and going to a bank in Palmdale. Another person in that same household may be working in the Carmichael area and have children living in Fox Hill. So this gross intermixing and intermingling of the population has a direct effect on the corona numbers and the wide spread across the island. So what about Abaco? Well it is speculated that many people from Abaco still frequent Florida. To shop and to make other transactions. And also there’s a lot of travel between Nassau and Abaco. And a lot of it may be unregulated. And involve illegals who, too, are still trying to recover from Dorian. And they are back and forth to Nee Providence a

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John 3 months, 1 week ago

In search of material to rebuild homes. Some which are being constructed illegally.

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ColumbusPillow 3 months, 1 week ago

Kudos to Mr Myers for pushing hi speed Antigen COVID testing. It is a most sensible solution.

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truetruebahamian 3 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Myers has presented the most sensible and forward thinking solutions and explanations. Perhaps persons with businesses or projects in other islands will be allowed to use the rapid test results to travel there and back to those islands from New Providence. This will engage better commerce and employ those furloughed to enjoy an income and complete projects which have been put on hold since march. This will assist in the necessary businessactivity on these islands. Those who are of responsible behaviour and who present negative Antigen or antibody tests should and must be able to travel and continue work on the projects. This is essential. Anything otherwise is unacceptable.

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FrustratedBusinessman 3 months, 1 week ago

This man needs to run for Prime Minister. One of the few Bahamians consistently displaying critical thinking skills and an understanding of complex issues.

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newcitizen 3 months, 1 week ago

The people we need to be in our leadership roles are the ones that know better than to run.

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John 3 months, 1 week ago

Minnis new measures.: everything except church lockdown on the weekends. Including food stores, pharmacies, construction and banks.. curfew starts at 7:00 pm daily instead of 10:00 pm and is fir 24 hours on weekends. Beaches and gyms on New Providence and Abaco are fully closed. Fines for all corona infractions except for face masks are doubled. Businesses will be shut down fir 24 days after second violation. Persons violating curfew within 1 minute will be booked and ticketed and fined.

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whogothere 3 months, 1 week ago

This is insane.. churches indoors, air conditioned and involve singing - scientifically the ideal place to contract an airborne virus such COVID19.... just bad bad decision making...beaches are one the safest place you can be...so one wake me up when these fools are out of power...lockdown by another name still stinks and well likely to cause more infections...

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John 3 months, 1 week ago

Lot of Bahamians gonna spent time in jail or have criminal records when this is over

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tribanon 3 months, 1 week ago

If you spent a few days in a cell at Fox Hill Prison, it just might give you some clarity of thought as to where the Bahamas is now headed under Minnis at a rapid clip.

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