By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH total COVID-19 cases nearing the 10,000 mark, the country’s top infectious disease expert believes The Bahamas is now facing its third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The comments from Dr Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health, came as health officials reported 40 more cases on Saturday, pushing the nation’s overall tally to 9,736. Of this figure, 441 cases are active.
Friday saw 62 new infections, while 41 cases were recorded on Thursday, 30 on Wednesday, 58 on Tuesday, 45 on Monday and 21 last Sunday for a total of 297 last week.
The week prior saw 189 infections.
Last week, health officials also reported a rise in COVID-19 deaths, with the current toll at 194. The latest deceased victims are a 69-year-old woman from New Providence who died on April 8; a 57-year-old Abaco man and a 51-year-old New Providence woman—both of whom died on April 9; a 75-year-old woman from Andros who died April 11 and a 82-year-old New Providence man who died April 15.
Meanwhile, 45 people are currently in hospital fighting the virus.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, Dr Forbes confirmed the climbing COVID numbers and hospital cases show the country is now in its early stages of the third wave.
Dr Forbes said Bahamians have let their guards down, which she said contributed to the spike. However, she said some of the cases recently recorded have also been linked to the workplace and travel.
“Undoubtedly, we’re not all following the public health measures,” Dr Forbes said yesterday. “But, there are other scenarios. There are workplace exposures, there’s also gatherings. There has been an uptick in cases after the Easter holidays that contributed to. . .(the) rise and then there’s travel related cases and so there are several things that are contributing to what’s happening with the increase of cases.”
However, the COVID-19 task force member said the nation could still get a handle on the situation if Bahamians continue to follow all of the health measures among other things.
She also noted vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and isolation strategies will be key in helping to tackle this wave of the pandemic but said all measures will “have to be done in combination”.
She said: “The public health measures are very effective, but the key is for that to work is everybody has to follow them…The other way that the COVID outbreak could be stopped is a full robust vaccination programme but that takes time and we have to get a very large proportion of the population immunised and that takes time so there’s two parts—prevention like the vaccine and public health measures—and then there’s control measures.
“(This includes) having public health platforms that identifies the cases early and early means it has to be done very early like within a day or two and put those cases in isolation and find the high-risk contact and put them in quarantine and do follow up testing and it can work, but all those things have to be done in combination.”
Last week, former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands told The Tribune he believes the country has reached a point where “draconian interventions” might be needed to bring rising COVID-19 cases under control.
He said the high COVID numbers confirmed in the last few days show the country has a “serious problem” and added that officials will now have to determine what sort of intervention is needed to curb further COVID spread.
Asked whether she thought more restrictions were needed to get cases under control, Dr Forbes did not give her thoughts on the matter yesterday, but said officials would have to consider several factors before making such decisions.
She told this newspaper: “Now, here’s the challenge when you start talking about restrictive measures, if you are following the preventive strategies and public health measures but you see not everybody does it, that’s where policy makers have to consider, do we need to put in place things to reduce gatherings and opportunities to reduce gatherings?
“That’s how that works because if people are not following or complying with the measures, then the question arises, do you now have to put in place certain things to reduce the chance that COVID could spread?’
She added: “For example, if you reduce the curfew down, then it reduces the chance that it could spread through some of events that a lot of people are attending. You also want to make sure that people in the workplace are adhering to the workplace guidelines and that people who are traveling are reducing their risks and only doing essential travel and also are people compliant with all of these measures.
“So that it is what one needs to consider when thinking about restrictions. . .and you still have to know that restrictions will still impact socialisations and the economy.”
Both Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and Health Minister Renward Wells have recently said there are no plans to increase COVID restrictions.