By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE country recorded 580 new cases of COVID-19 over a three-day period from December 23 to 25, with Christmas Day alone accounting for 330 infections.
Those 330 cases marked the highest daily infection count the country has recorded since the start of the pandemic.
On December 23, there were 159 cases of coronavirus and the following day saw 91 cases recorded. The nation now has 23,960 confirmed cases, of which 1,294 are active.
The rapid exponential increase sparked a decision by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Sunday to announce that effective immediately, there would be no approvals for any large gatherings and all current approvals had been suspended.
“Gatherings with more than 30 people outdoor(s) and 20 people indoor(s) will not be permitted until further notice,” a press release from Health Minister Dr Michael Darville said on December 26.
“According to the rules, persons should provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.”
Dr Darville also said there was no easy fix for dealing with the surge in cases and striking a balance with the country’s economy.
“The Omicron variant is the most highly transmissible COVID variant yet, causing soaring case numbers across the world. Many countries are seeing exponential growth, and their highest case counts yet since the start of the pandemic. We should expect the same here.
“The Omicron variant can infect those who have previously tested positive for the virus as well as those who have been vaccinated, which means the Omicron virus is finding little resistance as it spreads throughout our communities.
“Thankfully, most of the people who are vaccinated will experience no symptoms or mild symptoms. Unvaccinated persons have a higher risk of getting COVID, being hospitalised and dying from COVID.
“There are no easy answers for dealing with the coming surge in cases and care must be taken to strike the right balance between our country’s health crisis and economic well-being. Many Bahamians are earning their family’s first regular pay-cheques since COVID began nearly two years ago. The impact of the economic crisis on our families has been as severe, and in many cases, more severe, than the impact of the health crisis. We’re simply not going to shut down all economic activity,” Dr Darville said.
Additionally, health officials are tightening restrictions and rolling out new initiatives, he said.
“As you know, we did not allow the carnival to take place. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one. We are tightening rules for entering the country in order to reduce the number of cases that are imported.
“We have taken the decision effective immediately, to limit all gatherings to a maximum of 30 persons outdoor and 20 persons indoor until further notice. “According to the rules, persons should provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.
“At our press conference early next week we will announce details regarding the distribution of free medical-grade masks and the roll-out of free COVID-19 pilot testing in New Providence.”
He said COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory particles, mainly through close range contact within six feet. He added the disease can also be airborne.
“Infectious particles of the virus can hang in the air for hours in indoor spaces and poorly ventilated spaces and therefore the right and properly fitting masks can and do make a big difference.
“We are finalising technical guidance for businesses, churches and others to improve ventilation and air filtration.
“We are also increasing outreach for the ongoing procurement of vaccines because vaccines remain the best way to reduce the severity of the disease and death. We are working to procure treatments for COVID-19 and we are taking steps to enhance our hospital capacity.
“The Prime Minister and I are in contact with multiple international non-profit groups with expertise in COVID relief because this is an all-hands-on-deck moment.
“We are also preparing a new public education programme so Bahamians can have reliable information about the Omicron variant.”
The minister also made an appeal for the unvaccinated to get inoculated and for Bahamians to be responsible.
“Avoid gathering with people from outside your household. Outside is always safer than inside; limit your time indoors to the extent possible.
“When you’re inside – open as many windows and doors as you can, to reduce the number of virus particles in the air. Wear your masks, especially indoors. Universal mask-wearing in public places can help to reduce COVID-19 incidence by more than 50 percent.
“Masks should be made of layers of tightly-woven fabric and without gaps. Properly fitting masks fit snugly over the nose, mouth and chin without gaps. Double masking enhances protection. Individuals may opt to wear N95 or KN95 respirators which are available commercially.
“If you are vaccinated, get your booster shot. If you are unvaccinated—please get your jabs now. Billions of people worldwide have been vaccinated safely.
“If you have been exposed to someone who tested positive, or if you have cold or flu symptoms, please get tested, and please do not go to work or gather with others.”
The Ministry of Health and Wellness is expected to hold a press conference this week with announcements on new infections and other information regarding the country’s fight against the disease.
Last week, Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis announced the testing window for people entering the country will change from five days to three days in view of rising cases. This took effect yesterday.
Beginning January 7, a negative PCR test will be the only test accepted for all travellers entering the country, regardless of vaccination status.
Up to press time, 19 people were in hospital with the virus. Seven hundred and thirteen people have died from the disease.
As of December 23, 154,153 people have been fully vaccinated; this total includes people who were vaccinated abroad and registered on the government’s platform.