Brennen says it is unsustainable to keep economy closed until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen said yesterday that while The Bahamas has a high chance of COVID-19 resurging in the future due to exposure from tourists, it is ultimately unsustainable for the country to remain on lockdown until a vaccine for the virus is found.

Speaking during a University of The Bahamas Research Edge Question and Answer session held via Zoom yesterday, Brennen said health professionals estimate a vaccine could take at least a year to be completed.

But he said The Bahamas’ economy “just wouldn’t survive” waiting that long.

“Our chances of re-occurrence are actually pretty high because we are a tourism-dependent economy,” Brennen said.

“So our push, from an economic standpoint, is to open up our borders as quickly as possible, to allow people to come in so that they can spend money in The Bahamas.

“Unfortunately, that’s in complete opposition to what we, from a public health standpoint, would like to happen because if we could keep this COVID-19 at bay for as long as possible and minimize people who potentially have infection coming into country, that’s what we would like to do.”

However, he added that he does foresee the country being able to reopen parts of the economy “as long as we’re accumulating cases at a rate that will still be able to be manageable by our health system”.

“Most of us feel as though a vaccine, at best, is probably a year away,” Brennen said.

“But I don’t think we’ll be able to keep our economy closed for another 12 months – we just wouldn’t survive that.”

He added, “Given all the issues and challenges that comes to vaccine development, we are likely to open up our borders – not just here in The Bahamas but across the world – prior to that vaccine being proven when it comes to safety but also efficacy and being able to mount an immune response, so that if you are exposed you do not get infected with the virus.”

Brennen cautioned, however, that the process of reopening the economy and borders must be done in a “smart” way.

“We heard early in this infection, like we’ve heard with Ebola and others, ‘Maybe we could just screen everybody at the borders and we would be able to keep it out,’” he said.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. In fact, I had a teleconference this morning with a grouping that was offering thermal scanning at our borders for us to be able to do this and then be able to allow cruise ships to come in.”

But as he suggested,  research that found similar thermal scanning was ineffective, Brennen said: “We just have to be smart in the way we deploy technology and resources and funding and people to be able to make sure that it is based on true scientific fact.”

He added, “Flattening the curve and making sure that we’re not accumulating cases faster than our health system is able to address them, is really the linchpin in making sure that we can then move to opening up parts of our economy.”

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