By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Chief Journalist of the Tribune
PREMIER Philip “Brave” Davis yesterday announced tougher measures for the Bahamas, including a shorter testing window for inbound travelers and a change in the number of people who can attend indoor and outdoor gatherings.
He warned the nation was facing an extremely difficult few weeks ahead triggered by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Although health officials have not confirmed the presence of the latest variant here, Health and Welfare Minister Dr Michael Darville said they were confident that omicron “was more than probable “in the country and was behind the exponential increase in cases in recent days. .
Health officials recorded 140 new cases on Wednesday – 136 in New Providence, two in Grand Bahama and one in Abaco and Eleuthera. As of Tuesday, 79 new infections were reported and represented an increase of more than 200% from the 26 cases reported on Monday.
In response to the apparent infectivity and rate of transmission highlighted by the increase in the number of positive cases, Mr Davis said there would be further measures as the country could enter the worst phase of the pandemic. .
In addition to plans to distribute hundreds of thousands of medical-grade masks across the country, he said the testing window for people entering the country will be reduced from five days to three days.
From January 7, a negative PCR test will be the only test accepted for all travelers entering the country, regardless of their vaccination status.
Mr Davis also said that as of today the rules regarding the size of gatherings have been adjusted. Indoor gatherings should not have more than 20 people while outdoor gatherings cannot have more than 30 people.
He also said requests for proposals would be solicited imminently for the government’s free testing initiative.
“I have worked with the Minister of Health, Dr Michael Darville, to consult with a variety of experts and professionals, and therefore we are immediately taking a number of steps,” Mr Davis said during a live broadcast from his quarantine location due to exposure to COVID-19.
“Please understand that the situation is fluid, and we will continue to adapt and make adjustments to our country’s strategy as necessary.
“We have acquired hundreds of thousands of medical grade masks and plan to distribute them to communities across the country in the coming days. COVID is an airborne disease – infectious particles of the virus can remain in the air for hours in indoor spaces, so the right masks can and do make a big difference.
“We are also implementing new border rules. We are changing the entry requirements for the country: Bahamians and visitors must test negative within three days of entering the country, instead of five, and from January 7 a negative PCR test will be required for all. The rapid antigen test remains an essential tool, but a PCR test is more sensitive and can detect an infection earlier in its course than the antigen test.
“Effective immediately, we are changing the rules regarding the size of permitted gatherings. Indoor gatherings should have no more than 20 people, outdoor gatherings no more than 30. ”
He continued, “We will increase awareness so that vaccinated adults receive a booster, as the booster appears to offer substantial additional protection against serious illness. We are also making a concerted effort to reach those who are not yet vaccinated at all – but unfortunately, it will take weeks for those who have just received the first vaccines to gain the protections that vaccines provide. This is still important – because COVID will continue to circulate in several weeks. Our vaccination efforts will include outreach to inner city communities and to undocumented migrants who may have had difficulty with online registrations or accessing vaccination sites.
“We will also take further steps to provide technical advice to businesses, churches and others to make these places as safe as possible. Because COVID is airborne, ventilating indoor spaces and filtering the air where possible can make a big difference.
“We are continuing to move forward as quickly as possible to make COVID testing free. Requests for proposals will be solicited imminently before we move quickly to confirming a supplier capable of meeting the standards essential to the proper functioning of this program.
“We are also taking steps to improve our ability to respond to infections requiring treatment. ”
In addition, Mr Davis said the government was ready to mobilize several field hospitals if the number of people to be admitted increased and additional staff were also being recruited.
“In New Providence, we plan to use the Nursing School and the National Stadium, and we are in talks with an international partner to open a field hospital in Grand Bahama. We are identifying additional options in Family Islands. The plans include providing the necessary equipment to support the delivery of care to patients with moderate to severe symptoms.
“We are recruiting additional nurses and hospital staff. We are working to establish partnerships with several international non-profit organizations.
He said health officials were scrambling to purchase new drugs and the South Beach Clinic was being prepared so services could continue if there was an increase.
Mr Davis said the plan reflected the rapidly changing situation in the country.
“I want to stress that the activities that were relatively safe last week are no longer. This is how quickly things have changed here.
“It’s important to understand that people who have been vaccinated are at much, much lower risk of getting serious disease, but people who are vaccinated can still catch and spread omicron. Some vaccinated people who are infected will have no symptoms, some will have mild symptoms, and some will even have severe cases. And just as vaccination reduces but does not eliminate the risk of contracting the virus, a previous infection also does not offer complete protection, ”he also said.
Officials said yesterday that 200 positive samples had been sent to a diagnostic lab in Panama to access gene sequencing to determine if any of the cases were due to omicron.
“After looking at the data from the last few days and the infectivity as well as the rate of transmission, we are convinced without gene sequencing that the omicron variant is more than likely in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas,” said Dr Darville.
The health ministry is expected to hold a press conference early next week to provide the latest statistics on the increase in cases and officials yesterday maintained they were preparing for a spike after observing trends across countries neighbors.