• 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
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.
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.