By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
FORMER Health Minister Dr Duane Sands yesterday cautioned local officials to “get ready” for a potential increase of COVID-19 cases, insisting a fourth wave of the disease was imminent.
Speaking to The Tribune Dr Sands stressed that now is not the time for Bahamians to let their guard down despite current low case numbers.
Pointing to rising infection rates in the United States and Europe, the former member of Parliament said experience has often shown what happens to neighbouring countries “is a reasonable predictor” of what is to come here.
He said: “Let me say that I am absolutely grateful for the reduction in the number of confirmed cases that we’ve recorded over the last weeks and the reduction in the number of hospitalised patients, but already I think we’re starting to see some movement in the other direction in terms of the number of cases presenting to the various facilities.”
“Experience has shown us what happens in Europe and what happens in the United States is a reasonable predictor of what is likely to happen in The Bahamas and so, as goes the rest of the world, I believe we’re going to see a fourth wave and it beholds us to learn the lessons that other people have learned with horrible consequences.
“… And so, the methods should be let us get ready, let us hope and pray for the best but prepare for the worst and that means to get vaccinated, adhere rigidly to the disciplinary approaches that work - social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitisation, avoiding large crowds, etc, you know the drill.”
The former Cabinet minister spoke after the Ministry of Health confirmed 15 new cases on its November 23 dashboard, bringing the nation’s total count to 22,696.
Despite low double digits being recorded, Dr Sands said it’s important that Bahamians remain alert and not ignore the signs of a potential uptick.
“We have 15 confirmed cases for yesterday that was reported today but the challenge is once you start to see this uptick, don’t ignore it,” Dr Sands cautioned.
“Don’t believe that somehow this is a flu. We saw the dip to three and four cases a day but now it’s in the double digits. With what’s happening in the United States to our north and what’s happening in Europe and Great Britain, we ignore this at our own peril.”
Dr Sands also explained that battling a fourth wave when the nation’s healthcare system has barely recovered from its third fight with the disease could result in negative impacts.
“Our healthcare system has been badly battered and now needs some time using the Bahamian vernacular ‘to catch itself’ and if we don’t have that time to catch itself, then battling that fourth wave when people are battle weary… you’re talking about a different battle now,” he said.
Concerns about a fourth wave come as the Davis administration continues to further reopen the Bahamian economy.
Since being elected to office, the government has eliminated the national curfew and allowed businesses that were ordered closed at the onset of the pandemic to re-open among other things.
Asked if he thought officials may have acted too soon in view of concerns about another surge, Dr Sands did not directly answer, but agreed they should take a cautious approach.
“I think that my language has been very consistent that we cannot afford to let our guards down and we have seen this before,” he said. “We have seen this movie before so let us avoid getting giddy with increasing numbers of tourists and so forth. That is incredibly important and economic activity is necessary if we’re going to survive but let’s do it smart.
“Let’s do it in a disciplinary way and let’s demonstrate to the world what best practices for COVID means. I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but I think just to the casual observer, if you look out there now the appearance is there is no real COVID issue in The Bahamas. It’s like we have taken the approach that ‘hey, COVID gone’ and that is the furthest thing from the truth.”
He continued: “It’s a very challenging balancing act. How do you restore confidence and how do you rev up an ailing economy? How do you encourage investment? How do you get businesses to have a level of optimism that they’re willing to take risks again and invest? But you have to balance that as always with the very real issue of COVID coming back with a vengeance the way it is in Europe and the way it is in the United States.”
Dr Sands also commented on the declining vaccination rates, noting it as a major concern.
He also said it would be a” horrible scene” if vaccine doses were to expire before being administered to the public.
“We are a under-vaccinated country right now with fully vaccinated people accounting for only 40 percent. The number of people that have been vaccinated over the last four, six to eight weeks – except for one week – was below 10,000,” he added.
“There has a been steady reduction in the number of people vaccinated since September 25 and so if you’re only immunising 5,000 people a week, you do the arithmetic. With the number of doses that we have and are scheduled to receive, we could find ourselves in a situation where we end up wasting or discarding vaccines that many countries are not fortunate enough to have access to.”
The latest vaccine tracker says 143,434 people in The Bahamas have been fully vaccinated against the virus, while 141,983 have received at least one vaccine dose.