By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A local infectious disease expert believes it is “highly likely” the new variant of COVID-19 already detected in some 33 countries will reach Bahamian shores.
Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme at the Ministry of Health, Dr Nikkiah Forbes told The Tribune that as far as she is aware, The Bahamas has not yet identified the new variant in the country, but officials are actively monitoring the situation.
This comes after Florida last week recorded its first case of the more contagious coronavirus variant, becoming the third US state to detect the new infection.
More than 30 countries have detected the new variant to date, which was first spotted in the UK.
Yesterday, Dr Forbes said while the situation is concerning, it’s also only a matter of time before the country sees the new strain, especially with people still travelling.
“Well, as far as I know, we haven’t recorded any new cases of the variant at this time but as we can see, COVID-19 itself is a perfect example of how quickly these viruses that are highly transmissible can be found in other countries and can be spread in other countries,” she said.
“There are 33 countries at least that have recorded cases and with travel, definitely it is a concern to all countries. It’s highly likely that this new strain is going to branch off to other countries, including The Bahamas.
“So, as we currently said, it appears to be more transmissible, it accounts for about 60 percent of cases in London after the first cases were identified in the United Kingdom and there’s more of it in the upper airways and respiratory tract than other strains, but it’s not more deadly and it’s likely the vaccine is going to work.”
Asked what sort of measures might be taken by health officials if the country were to detect the new strain, Dr Forbes said officials will use the same preventative strategies being utilised to prevent community transmission.
“The good thing is the public health measures are going to be useful to prevent transmission and so, first and foremost, we have to stress following the public health measures – that is mask wearing, not touching our faces, avoiding crowds and closed spaces and definitely we would have to ensure that we have capacity,” she said.
“We know that there was increased hospital capacity in our last surge but it’s going to be very important when we look at preventive strategies to prevent transmission and again contact tracing, isolation to try and mitigate a surge related to this new more transmissible strain.”
While several countries have already placed border restrictions on the UK since the new strain was reported, Health Minister Wells said The Bahamas does not plan to follow suit at this current time.
“We’re not seeking to close our borders again as a country,” he said last week. “The Prime Minister has spoken that we’re in a phase where we’re seeking to keep the economy open and keep the Bahamian people working and doing what we need to as a Ministry of Health, as a government, as a competent authority…”
This comes as the country continues to see low COVID-19 numbers, with only 15 cases reported on Saturday – pushing the nation’s total to 7,914.
Friday saw even fewer new infections being reported, with 12 recorded in total. Eight of those are located on New Providence, two on Grand Bahama, one on Abaco and one on San Salvador. COVID deaths, however, have increased to 175.
Dr Forbes said officials are anxiously waiting until mid-January to see if holiday celebrations will lead to an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
She said: “So, absolutely we’re going to know within two to three weeks, it’s usually about one to two incubation periods where we know if an event has led to an increase or an uptick in cases.”
Jamaica is among countries that have placed restrictions on travel from the UK in response to the new strain. That nation’s travel ban on the UK is set to end on January 31. The strain has been detected in Jamaica, however the island nation has more relaxed travel measures than The Bahamas.