By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Nurses Union says it disagrees with plans to remove the COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers believing there is no guarantee people won’t contract or spread the virus even after receiving two doses of the vaccine.
This comes after Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced on Wednesday that fully vaccinated people can travel to The Bahamas without a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test starting May 1.
He also said fully vaccinated travellers within the country will be exempt from the testing requirements when travelling to and from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera.
Vaccinated people will also get other benefits, like participating in indoor dining.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, BNU president Amancha Williams said she didn’t believe the move was a “smart decision” on the government’s behalf and added that now is not the time for the country to let its guard down against the COVID-19 threat, especially numbers catching the virus are rising.
According to Ms Williams, the uptick in both new cases and hospitalisations has placed a strain on the nation’s healthcare system—something she said shows why it’s so important for the country to still have certain COVID preventative measures in place.
However, by removing the current COVID entry requirements for vaccinated people, Ms Williams said the government is taking a risk that could potentially create problems for the nation later down the road.
“I think we need to still take precautions until we see our way out from this third wave,” the union president said. “We have to remember that as a country that we can’t guarantee anybody nothing. We are on trial and error and we don’t know the behaviour or reaction of this vaccine and so there are still precautions to be taken and we must do an ongoing survey so we can know how this virus behaves with the vaccinations.
“We’ve been seeing reports in the US that people are still getting and contracting the virus so you don’t let your guards down. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry, “ Ms Williams added.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that it had reports of nearly 6,000 “breakthrough” COVID-19 infections out of more than 77 million fully vaccinated people, suggesting such infections only affect a small percentage of inoculated people.
The union president also advised the Minnis administration to follow the example of other countries which have set out certain recommendations for fully vaccinated people wanting to travel to other destinations.
She referenced the CDC’s recommendation that vaccinated people still get tested three to five days after travel among other things.
“The CDC has even given recommendations for fully vaccinated people because there are still risks from before and after travelling. Before you arrive in the United States and after you travel, they say get a viral test three to five days after travelling. They also say while you’re traveling, wear your masks over your nose, avoid crowds, stay six feet away etc.”
She also said that Bahamians need to be fully educated about COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure that they do not get the impression that vaccines will completely protect them against the virus.
To date, more than 21,000 people in The Bahamas have received their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since the country began its vaccination campaign in mid-March. The AstraZeneca vaccine is said to have a 76-79 percent efficacy rate.
Yesterday, Ms Williams told this newspaper: “Even though you’re vaccinated, you could still be exposed and convey this virus to someone so all of that, people need to be educated about this virus and vaccinations and we have not been seeing a lot of that happening.”
With the nation now battling its third wave, Ms Williams said it’s important for Bahamians to continue following all the health protocols and not become relaxed with the rules that are meant to keep Bahamians safe.
Asked how nurses are coping with this new wave of infections, she said there is still some exhaustion among workers as they have never fully recovered from the two COVID waves.
“At this point, they were burnt out from last year. They haven’t really had a real break because they’re not only taking care of their patients but also their loved ones and so nurses were impacted all around—their social life, their private lives were impacted,” she said.
Since March, The Bahamas has seen an uptick in positive cases, with total infections now at 9,926 after 58 new infections were recorded Wednesday. Of those cases, 504 are still active.
Meanwhile, 50 people are said to be in hospital sick with the virus.
Health officials have recently linked the spike in cases to international travel and a relaxed adherence to the current rules.