By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Progressive Liberal Party is calling for the government to be more proactive in its COVID-19 response, saying a feasible action plan is needed to safeguard the country against a new, more contagious COVID-19 strain that’s already spreading worldwide.
During a press conference at the PLP’s headquarters yesterday, the party’s COVID task force said the Minnis administration needed to act now before it’s too late in preparation for a potential third wave of COVID-19.
As it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine, the PLP said there needs to be more transparency from the government on when a vaccine will be made available in the country and who will be given the priority to receive the doses.
The party representatives said they’ve received reports that the Minnis administration is leaning more towards Astrazeneca, but said officials should secure doses of whichever vaccine is currently available to begin the inoculation process right away.
PLP task force co-chair and Senator Dr Michael Darville said: “We are very concerned about the fact that at this stage of the game, the government has not brought forth a definitive timeline of when we anticipate one of the vaccines coming into our country and this is on the backdrop that the Cayman (Islands) which is already in possession of a vaccine.
“I believe we need to reach out to Cayman and some of the British colonies because we already have a close diplomatic relations with them to see if we could source some of the vaccine to stand the inoculation programme.”
The task force also said there needs to be a comprehensive educational campaign on the vaccine to better educate the public and clear up misinformation presented about the vaccine.
Meanwhile PLP task force co-chair Dr Melissa Evans said statistically, “the probability of this third wave coming to The Bahamas is very, very high.”
More than 30 countries, including the US, have already detected the mutation, which was first spotted in the UK. Another strain out of South Africa is also said to be spreading.
Dr Evans told reporters yesterday that with all the recent holiday travel to the US, it’s a possibility that any of the new COVID strains could already be here in The Bahamas.
“I don’t know what the exact number is, the Ministry of Tourism would have all of that data, but if we saw 2,000 people entered the country, the probability factor is a third of those people could’ve been positive even though they PCR testing prior to coming in because we still have a window that they would’ve had prior to landing in The Bahamas,” she said.
Recommendations made by the group include the government widely consulting with the medical and business communities on the new strain, revising the current travel protocols as necessary to reduce the likelihood of imported cases, increased testing and ensuring that local hospitals are prepared to isolate any potential cases of the new strain among other things.
Speaking on the country’s travel protocols, Dr Darville recommended that the government could even re-introduce the rapid antigen testing requirement upon arrival for visitors and residents in response to the new threat.
The idea was initially set to be implemented for the country’s November 1 reopening, but later scrapped by officials in October. Instead, travellers are given the antigen test on day five of their stay.
“A lot of the protocols need to be adjusted,” Dr Darville said. “As you’re aware, this pandemic is not a static situation, it’s very fluid.
“There are mutations and as we begin to see these types of mutations that are highly contagious, it means now that we must tighten up. We must definitely be able to revise the protocols.”
Asked if officials are able to detect the new strain with the current testing tools, PLP COVID-19 task force member Dr Lynwood Brown: “Regarding the genetic profile of the B117, symptomatically there’s no difference from the current one so we would not know what strain it is unless we do genetic profiling.
“We utilise the Carrick genetic profiling lab in Trinidad if we suspect that this particular strain is here and I believe all new positive COVID tests where persons have a travel history should at this point be genetically profiled to see if it is in fact the B117 strain… but to answer your question in a nutshell, do we have the facilities here to do it? No, but do we have access to it? Yes, but it has to be suspected through the epidemiological profiling or contact tracing.”