An unacceptably risky ‘gap’

COVID-19 is the pretext for the continued suspension of constitutional rights, and an untenably persistent rule by decree.

It has triggered significant economic falloff resulting in a deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) increase of nearly 80 percent year to year, and a historic estimated unemployment rate of 25.6 percent.

It is the reason businesses have failed, while others increasingly struggle to balance risk against reward.

And COVID-19 is the cause of grief for the loved ones of at least 175 men and women in The Bahamas who lost their life due to the virus.

In short, there exists perhaps no greater immediate threat to the nation’s stability and viability than the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of local surges — an impact the administration ought to be diligently mitigating through the provision of adequate response resources, and stringent enforcement of border protocols intended to limit risk of COVID-19 importation.

Gross dereliction of duty to protect the national interest in the midst of a deadly pandemic aptly describes the conditions that led to almost half of incoming travelers — over 20,000 visitors and residents entering mostly from the United States — failing to submit to fifth-day rapid antigen testing.

It is a failure for which accountability at the ministerial level is required, and far greater than the chief medical officer’s categorization of a mere “gap” in the process, represents an unacceptable risk to the country’s already fragile economy and healthcare system.

True to form, Health Minister Renward Wells under whose watch this failure persisted, defended the indefensible yesterday, claiming that current COVID-19 figures show health protocols are working, and “the circumstances in-country are still in hand”.

Let us consider that health officials were unable to say whether the 113 travelers who tested antigen-positive since November 1 submitted to a follow-up RT-PCR test as required; a positive result of which is to result in mandatory monitored quarantine and contact tracing foundational to an adequate pandemic response.

This means health officials would not know who these visitors and residents had contact with during their infectious phase, thereby removing their ability to effectively track the genesis of new surges should they occur.

Wells sought to minimize the impact of at least 113 antigen-positive cases, referencing the 0.16 positivity rate cited by health officials for the tested traveler subset since November 1.

It is unclear whether it was lost on the minister that resting on the laurels of a positivity rate which does not account for the testing of approximately half of all fifth-day travelers is a position not supported by science or health professionals who have spoken publicly to the risk of a third wave.

Reminiscent of the prime minister’s premature confidence in what appeared to be a calm before what became the country’s deadly second wave, Wells’ argument is also blind to the implications of new and reputedly more infectious COVID-19 variants, as well as the reality that at least 113 COVID-19 positive visitors and residents who have contact with tourism industry workers, family members, friends and co-workers poses more than enough risk to the development of new clusters throughout the country.

As a point of context, the 113 known antigen-positive cases, if they were to have tested positive via RT-PCR analysis, would represent approximately 10 percent of the total number of new confirmed cases recorded between November 1 and January 11 — a statistically significant ratio that highlights a COVID-19 importation gamble the country cannot afford to undertake.

Our current economic trends are unsustainable, and how government works to guard against a new surge sends a message to local and foreign investors about whether The Bahamas is a place where investor confidence essential for economic rebound, can be safely reposed in a COVID-19 environment.

Failures for which there is no accountability have little hope of being rectified.

The minister’s latest comments offered no assurance that the “gap” leading to lax enforcement of COVID-19 travel protocols will be filled anytime soon.

Recovery can be fleeting where such an unacceptably risky breach is not repaired.

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