By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Philip “Brave” Davis yesterday said the government instituted new travel restrictions on several African countries in a bid to “buy some time” as there are too many unknowns regarding the characteristics of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
He said his administration was far from complacent as it faced the possibility of the potentially more transmissible variant infecting people in The Bahamas.
In response to the new variant, on Sunday the government announced the imposition of travel restrictions against Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The Bahamas is now denying entry to non-residents who recently visited those countries.
However, as it relates to Bahamians and residents who travelled from those areas, officials said while they will not be prevented from entering the country, they will be required to self-isolate for two weeks at their own expense as a precautionary measure.
Mr Davis said he was aware this was not perfect protection, but the move bought time.
“New COVID-19 cases are down, COVID-19 hospitalisations have declined, our US travel advisory has improved from a level four to a level three, and economic projections indicate our economy is on the way up. Yet with reports of a new, possibly more transmissible COVID variant, we are far from complacent,” Mr Davis said in the House of Assembly.
“Everyone is tired of COVID, but unfortunately, both governments and families need to remain vigilant and engaged in this battle against the virus. There is no single perfect protection against COVID, so we should all take multiple steps to protect ourselves and remember that when we are careful, we are also protecting our friends, our families, our co-workers and our communities.
“Let’s hold our gatherings outside instead of inside whenever possible because the virus is airborne and can linger in the air for hours in poorly ventilated indoor rooms. If you have to be in a crowded, indoor space, wear two masks, or a medical-grade mask.
“I urge everyone to listen to doctors and medical experts from around the world – and get vaccinated. I am very pleased to announce that for the first time during this pandemic, our country now has enough vaccines for all Bahamians who choose to take advantage of this life-saving inoculation. This is an enormous relief.”
Mr Davis said the scientific community around the world is at work studying the new variant and officials here planned to share updates as new developments come.
The new variant was first identified in Botswana and South Africa, he noted, adding the world owes the scientists and public health officials in those countries a debt of gratitude for moving so quickly to share their data.
Noting that other countries around the world have taken similar actions to those by The Bahamas, Mr Davis said: “This is not perfect protection; the variant has been identified in several other countries as well. The idea is to buy some time until we have more clarity.
“We just don’t have enough clinical data to know with confidence yet how transmissible the new variant is, or whether it induces more severe disease.
“We have to stay alert, stay flexible, and continue to combat the Delta strain, which is still circulating and remains a threat.”
He said despite these difficult times, there are reasons to be optimistic.
“Real GDP is expected to return to positive growth this year, to two percent, and is expected to peak at eight percent in 2022.
“To keep the nation headed in a positive direction, to take advantage of the rebounding of the Bahamian economy, we must take immediate action to foster and sustain stronger economic growth.”