An unclear war plan

The prime minister on Sunday night addressed the nation for the third time in two weeks on the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Nonetheless, many in the public feel none the wiser for the information presented.

What is clear is that the picture provided is not bright.

Community spread continues to increase as the number of infected COVID-19 patients is now 14; two of whom are now hospitalized.

The other 12 patients remain at home, monitored on a daily basis via telephone, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearline McMillan. An additional 120 persons remained under quarantine, either in government facilities or at home.

Thus far, COVID-19 patients have been identified only on New Providence and on Grand Bahama. The prime minister warned that additional cases are expected as The Bahamas enters what has been described as a surge.

In anticipation of the surge, the prime minister advised that the government proposed to obtain the consent of the House of Assembly to permit the continuation of the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020, and the connected COVID-19 Orders for seven days to the 8th of April.

By all accounts, the most effective means of slowing and, indeed, stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus, are through social distancing, contact tracing and testing.

Around the world, time periods for social distancing are being lengthened, not shortened.

Last week, the government took the decision to close its principal airport, the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) to all incoming passengers, including returning Bahamian citizens to the 1st of May.

It appears to us that whatever informed that decision, should have, similarly, dictated the need to extend domestic restrictions, including business closures, restricted operations for essential services like food stores, pharmacies and banks, for a similar period. Instead, we were advised of additional businesses that are to be permitted to operate.

The vast majority of cases identified in The Bahamas up to now, 12 out of the total of 14, are the result of community spread.

None of the 12 have been connected to either recent international travel or to any international visitor or returning resident to our country.

The two individuals with recorded recent travel to Canada and to the Dominican Republic have not been linked to any other infected patients.

We are confused by the government’s decision to issue new guidelines to individuals in certain age groups to further restrict their movement in the community. Targeting persons in the over 65-year age group ignores more recent information, internationally, that infected persons are represented in every age group. Fatalities have included infants, teenage athletes, young adults between the ages of 30 and 60 and elderly residents of assisted living and residential care facilities. Recoveries have, similarly, been recorded in each of those age groups.

It is instructive that all of the patients identified in The Bahamas are reported to middle-aged between the ages of 35 and 44 or young retirees over 61 but not having reached the age of 70.

We are, therefore, surprised by the recent further exceptions for certain age groups, as we can find no compelling reason for the group being further exempted than as provided for in the original order.

And, we are concerned by the limited testing taking place in The Bahamas and further, by our dependence on a single national laboratory for the analysis of administered tests.

We were disappointed that no plan to address these inadequacies were commented upon.

We believe that they require urgent, priority attention.

It is crucially important that decisions about COVID-19 are guided by public health and not economic or vested considerations or interests.

The facts outlined by the prime minister do not lend themselves to additional business entities being exempted from the order at a time of increased infections and a forecasted surge nor do those facts support the extension of the order by only seven days.

In our view, the opposite ought to have been the case.

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