By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH several new infectious COVID-19 strains already spreading in some parts of the world, Progressive Liberal Party leader Phillip “Brave” Davis is urging the government to release a plan that allows for more virus testing and isolation to help prevent a third wave of COVID-19 in the country.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr Davis said the Minnis administration needed to act now before it is too late to safeguard the country against the new, more contagious COVID-19 strains. He said the country could not afford to return to lockdowns, which will only further damage the nation’s economy.
More than 50 countries, including the US, have already detected a COVID-19 mutation, which was first spotted in the UK. Another strain out of South Africa is also said to have spread to some 23 countries. Meanwhile, in Brazil, a new coronavirus variant has also been detected there.
The new strains come amid emerging reports that some of the new variants — particularly the one identified in the United Kingdom — may be both more infectious and more deadly than the original one. This report, however, has not been confirmed and the British government has not presented any evidence to substantiate this.
“We are all ready for this pandemic to be over, but we can’t afford to ignore the dangers to The Bahamas associated with these new strains,” Mr Davis said yesterday, urging the government to be more proactive in its COVID-19 response.
“If the government has a plan to protect Bahamians, they have not announced it. They have a history of taking premature victory laps and a pattern, across all policy areas, of failing to plan ahead.
“The increased transmissibility of these new variants mean we need increased vigilance and more rigorous implementation of mitigation measures. It’s critical that the government acts now, instead of doing what they usually do, which is wait for a crisis to develop and then react.”
The Cat Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador MP also pointed to the recommendations made by the PLP COVID-19 taskforce as strategies the government could implement to better protect the country against the new threats.
Recommendations made by the group include the government widely consulting with the medical and business communities on the new strains, 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.
“The government has said that they now have the ‘formula’ to beat COVID. But their ‘formula’ of lockdowns and curfews resulted in devastating, knockout blows to many businesses. Lockdowns are not a plan,” Mr Davis added.
“I’m very confident that Bahamians are united in wanting the government to move proactively and to produce a plan in which lockdowns are the last resort, not the first step.”
“If just a handful of people come into our country with one of the more transmissible strains, a few cases could quickly turn into many thousands. Let’s do whatever we need to in order to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
The Bahamas does not have the capacity for the genomic sequencing that is necessary to determine if more infectious COVID-19 variants found in the United Kingdom and South Africa are present in the country.
Positive COVID-19 samples will have to be sent to an internationally accredited lab to verify the strain of the virus present in a sample, according to Dr Indira Martin, Director of the National Reference Laboratory.
However, Health Minister Renward Wells has previously said the government is currently looking at ways to secure the tools needed to do so.
“We are looking at that but, in any event, if we need to, we are able to send samples abroad and get the results back very, very quickly,” he said.
“We are testing for COVID-19 (strains) if we see a circumstance that they saw in the UK where the virus was spreading at a particular rate that was unusual in regard to its normal spread then the government of The Bahamas will take normal steps to be able to test.”