By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE country’s top infectious disease expert has warned that there could be further COVID-19 spread if people in quarantine are allowed to vote at the polls in next week’s general election.
Dr Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Programme at the Ministry of Health, made the comments during a press conference on Friday.
This comes after Health Minister Renward Wells confirmed on Thursday that the government will not prevent people in quarantine from voting.
Asked what this could mean for the country given its current health state, Dr Forbes said: “If that scenario happens with persons in the same space, there will be a potential for COVID transmission so that could be safely done for example if it were online or some other remote forum, but the practised recommendation is that persons who are COVID positive should be in isolation.”
The issue of affording quarantined people the right to vote has been a topic of concern since Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis called an early election last month.
National Security Minister Marvin Dames recently suggested those in isolation will not be allowed to take part in the election.
However, when asked about the government’s position on the matter Thursday, Mr Wells said every voter will be allowed to exercise their right, including those in quarantine.
However, he did not clarify how such people will be able to vote on September 16.
“To prevent folks (from voting), there’s some constitutional issues I believe, legal issues around all of that and at the end of the day, folks are going to find a way to exercise their democratic right,” Mr Wells told reporters at C V Bethel Senior High School where scores of people gathered to cast early votes in the advanced poll.
“The government of The Bahamas and let me say this, in the United States, during the US election, the CDC had put out some guidelines and they said whether you’re COVID positive or whether you’re in quarantine, you can go out to vote in the American elections but the point is that you treat everyone who comes to the poll as if they’re COVID positive, so all Americans were allowed to vote and I think we’re taking that same model but we are putting even more stringent guidelines inside the polls.”
COVID concerns were reignited on Thursday after thousands of voters in New Providence and Grand Bahama gathered at the polls to cast an early vote, with little to no social distancing seen in many instances.
Asked if officials were worried that Thursday’s advanced poll and Election Day will lead to further virus spread, Dr Deshawn Saunders, deputy medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital, said: “Yes, we do have a concern that what’s happening may be shown ten to fourteen days from what was happening (Thursday) so we do have a very serious concern at this time.”