By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE recent spike of COVID-19 cases on Abaco prompted Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to reinstate more restrictive measures on the island, including a new curfew and tighter travel guidelines.
Starting on Sunday, the island’s curfew will now be from 8pm to 5am instead of its usual 10pm to 5am curfew.
Those travelling from mainland Abaco to any other island will also be required to take a RT-PCR COVID test prior to travel in addition to following all the previous travel guidelines.
The tightened restrictions come as the country is still awaiting to receive its first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to arrive sometime this week.
“The vaccine is not here as yet but be assured that once the vaccine is here, the entire Bahamas will know that the vaccine has arrived,” Dr Minnis told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of a ribbon cutting ceremony for Edeen Farms.
“And we will organise for the police of the defence force to escort the vaccine to its proper final location and we would arrange for a 24-hour security by the defence force… and I will urge all Bahamians to accept the vaccine because then we will decrease the rate of infection as is demonstrated around the world.”
In the meantime, Dr Minnis said the government will continue to work to keep the pandemic under control, pointing to officials’ need to address the slight uptick in cases in Abaco which he called “concerning”.
Due to rising infections there — particularly in Marsh Harbour and North Abaco — he said health officials have recommended stricter COVID-19 preventative measures.
According to Dr Minnis, the new measures will be enforced for a period of two weeks.
“We have survived this entire COVID pandemic because of strict rules we have introduced on each island and we tried to minimise the spread to all the other islands but I understand that Abaco is experiencing a slight increase and that concerns us,” he said.
“The medical team has already mobilised and made all the necessary adjustments and their recommendation is that at this particular point of time, Abaco curfew should be re-adjusted from 8pm to 5am.
“And we intend to make that adjustment 8pm to 5 am on Sunday. That would give them time to make the necessary adjustment and all individuals leaving Abaco mainland to any other mainland in The Bahamas would have to get a PCR test done and this would be done for about two weeks.
“We feel that about two weeks with this strict type of protocol we would be able to control (cases on) Abaco and prevent it from spreading to other parts of The Bahamas. As you know, The Bahamas is recognised throughout the world for the excellent job that it’s been doing and essentially a COVID-free destination. Therefore, we do not want Abaco’s experience that they’re having now to spread out to the other Bahama islands.”
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health said during the period of January 8 - February 23, there was a gradual increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases on Abaco. Since February 23, 2021 there have been 48 positive COVID-19 cases on the island.
The ministry said there are 23 total cases in Marsh Harbour and 25 in Cooper’s Town for an overall total of 48.
Currently, there are no cases reported in Sandy Point while 11 tests in Abaco are pending.
“Moreover, it is noteworthy to mention that an analysis of the gradual increase in COVID-19 cases on the island of Abaco was completed,” the ministry said.
“It was discovered that a few cases of COVID-19 were found at the Murphy Town Primary School in Central Abaco; four positive cases originated from a construction site; and six cases were confirmed to have originated from the Marsh Harbour Clinic.”
Officials said contact tracing is ongoing and the relevant staff will be placed in quarantine or isolation as required. The Marsh Harbour Clinic has undergone deep cleaning and sanitisation and remains open for service.
A team from the Surveillance Unit in New Providence has been dispatched to initiate contact tracing and to determine the level of exposure to the employees of the clinic and visiting clients.
In the meantime, three nurses have been sent as support staff to the clinic and two more nurses are expected to arrive soon.
“As it stands, there is a sufficient number of physicians on the island to manage the COVID-19 cases,” the ministry said.
Abaco has had 240 cases confirmed since COVID-19 was first found in the community.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis sought to allay fears that the island is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, insisting that such reports are not true.
According to Dr Minnis, the new cases are confined to certain areas on the island.
“At this point in time, we noticed that it’s confined to Marsh Harbour and the northern parts of Abaco. The central part is not affected but I want to assure the Bahamian populace that it’s not an outbreak in Abaco,” Dr Minnis stressed.
“We’re taking strict precautions because of the increase and we do not want it to go any further and we used this method in the past and it’s worked and we will use the method again. Now individuals may be concerned about the curfew but it’s about the welfare of the Bahamian populace.”