WHEN Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar discussed in November the rollout of the rapid antigen testing on the fifth day for a visitor in The Bahamas, he advised that It was going to be “a little bumpy”.
He asked Bahamians to bear with the government, but confidently concluded that “we’ll be ready for this well before” the larger properties come back on stream.
Well, the larger properties such as Atlantis and Baha Mar have opened their doors – and where’s the rapid antigen testing?
It turns out that just over half of the travellers who have come to The Bahamas have taken the COVID-19 antigen test after five days in the country.
A total of 46 percent have not.
Why? What’s the explanation for this?
After all, visitors were warned of the consequences for not doing so – a fine of $1,000 or a month in prison. The rules were issued in an emergency order, showing the importance with which the government regarded these measures.
Have any of those who failed to take the test been brought before the courts? Are any of them in Fox Hill prison at this moment? If not – and we fully expect there are none – isn’t that making a mockery of the whole system?
It’s not the first mess the government has made of testing. Previously, Mr D’Aguilar went from declaring that “uninterrupted access to high-quality rapid antigen tests is a crucial component for us to begin reinvigorating our critically important tourism sector” to saying that “the use of rapid antigen tests as an effective screening tool at the border was not supported by the available research or was not supported by the science”.
That came as the Living With COVID Coalition had spent time rounding up three million antigen tests to help the reopening only for their efforts to be sidelined with hours to go before the country reopened to tourism.
The PLP’s Dr Michael Darville, the co-chair of the party’s COVID-19 task force, sadly has it spot on when he says that “the government is not ready for prime-time”.
Talk of missed prosecutions and such is of course one thing, but the worrying fact is that 21,000 people who were required to take a test have not done so. How many of those 21,000 might have had the virus? We don’t know. Because they didn’t have the test, they won’t have known themselves either. How many might have gone on to spread the virus unwittingly to others? In the middle of our fight against the virus, we are shooting ourselves in our own foot if we do not follow the protocols and rules we have set down.
These rules were put in for a reason – to protect us. If we are failing to follow those rules, then we are failing to protect ourselves.
There needs to be absolute clarity over why we have failed so spectacularly. Is it down to visitors not following the rules? Or is it down to there not being the resources for them to do so? And where is the manpower to ensure those tests are carried out regardless of how helpful or otherwise visitors might be?
As Dr Darville said, “How could 41 percent of visitors who are supposed to be tested on day five after coming in not be tested? Where did these individuals go? And who is responsible for ensuring this is to be done?
“Let’s say there were two to three travellers who came in and were positive by day five but did not get tested and they are in and about the hotels interacting with people. That could possibly cause community spread.”
Remember – this comes at a time when we have relatively low numbers of community spread. If we can’t handle testing at this level, how are we supposed to cope with higher numbers of visitors – and potentially higher numbers of cases?
This is quite simply not good enough – and if we are to protect our economy as we open up further, this is no way to do it.