With the fourth wave of COVID-19 having spread rapidly across the country in recent weeks, Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Dr. Raymond King said yesterday it has had a substantial impact on operations.
King said the RBDF went from having an average of four active cases on the force and 18 people in quarantine between mid-October and Christmas Eve to an average of 131 cases and 77 people in quarantine since then.
He noted that the cases peaked in the first week of this month at 216 active cases. As of yesterday, there were 119.
“No doubt, our increased COVID impacts affected our operations,” King said.
“At one phase, it affected being able to deploy our vessels, whereby we relied solely on the use of our airwing division for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance patrols to get an early warning of a migrant vessel or any transnational threat in our maritime domain.
“Later on, we didn’t even have access to our aircraft nor our vessels [as a result of] the impact from COVID with this new variant.
“We then relied heavily on aerial reconnaissance from [Operation Bahamas and Turks and Caicos] OPBAT, the US Coast Guard, and we also got assistance from the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Airwing Unit.”
King said contact tracing revealed that 30 percent of the transmission among the RBDF COVID cases occurred “during family and social gatherings away from the workplace” and 25 percent of the cases involved travel.
“However, some 45 percent of the cases were workplace transmission because we live and work in a very close environment onboard our ships and in our training facilities,” he said.
Asked whether an RBDF Christmas party might have contributed, King said, “The events that were held, the health protocols were enforced.
“Persons had to demonstrate their vaccination status and antigen test result and social distancing. And so, while I can’t rule out whether even exercising those protocols transmission would have occurred.
“But we allowed them to have their functions with the enforcement of the health protocols.”
King said 37 percent of the RBDF’s members are fully vaccinated.
“The government’s position is that vaccination is not to be mandatory and the government sets policies,” King said.
“As an agency head, my job is simply to implement.
“And so, while we may have a legal instrument which can possibly compel members to be vaccinated, that instrument is not a consideration at this time.
“We want to follow the government’s policy. We are mandated to in terms of vaccination being voluntary but we continue to encourage people by way of incentives to do so.
“But we have seen an uptick from the initial hesitancy experienced in the number of persons being vaccinated.
“But that option is not considered but it possibly can be if the state of this country and the national security comes to bear.”
King said the issues arose as the RBDF is already being stretched thin as a result of new trends with the movement of undocumented migrants.
While the strategy in place is to intercept vessels as far south as possible, King said migrants are now using American vessels instead of traditional sloops to conceal their movement, and equipping traditional sloops with outboard engines to move more quickly.
King said groups of migrants are also targeting multiple islands.
“They are now targeting not only New Providence but Abaco, Eleuthera, and Andros,” he said.
“We are being forced to spread our resources from east to west and south in response to the new trends.”