Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced last night efforts to increase healthcare capacity and again urged Bahamians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a surge in cases continues to overwhelm the country’s hospitals and threatens to derail efforts to stabilize the national economy.
In a national address that had been highly anticipated, Minnis announced that for the second time in less than a year, Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, will lend assistance to improve hospital capacity.
“Given our current situation, I have once again asked them for help,” he said.
“Their response was immediate and without hesitation. For this, we are very grateful.
“Yesterday, an advance team from Samaritan’s Purse carried out a site inspection at the Princess Margaret Hospital with our healthcare officials.
“Their objectives were to assess the current operations in the original Samaritan’s Purse medical tents and to determine how to expand this, to allow for an additional 18 beds, to improve the COVID management care delivery in the shortest possible time.
“I am happy to announce that this coming Friday Samaritan’s Purse will begin erecting the additional 18 beds.”
Minnis said the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) is also working with a donor who has offered to provide an additional medical tent.
“Medical tents previously donated by the United States government for other purposes are being assessed to determine if they can be turned into negative air pressure tents and used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients,” he said.
The prime minister also advised the government will hire an additional 49 medical staff members, along with 111 nurses and nursing support staff to complement the staff currently dedicated to the COVID response.
“The total cost of these new hires amounts to $7.1 million,” he said.
“Our plan is to engage as many trained professionals as possible to provide healthcare to Bahamians and residents, and to get shots in arms as quickly as possible, as our vaccine supply increases.
“We are also calling on all retired nurses, doctors and pharmacists to come forward and assist in this, our time of need.”
Minnis said more than 40 people are also being added to the contact tracing team, and a new application is being rolled out to better identify people who do not comply with quarantine requirements.
With over 1,700 COVID-19 cases recorded in The Bahamas so far this month, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme, said yesterday this is the worst situation the country has been in with COVID to date and if something is not done it would get worse.
The prime minister maintained that more Bahamians need to take the COVID vaccine, as he lamented a “pandemic of misinformation” that has impacted the uptake.
“If you listen to fake news and don’t get the vaccine you may get caught up in a surge when it is hard for the healthcare system to save your life,” Minnis said.
“Our public health experts recommend you take the vaccine. Global public health experts recommend that you take the vaccine. As a medical doctor of 40-plus years, I recommend that you take the vaccine. Do not listen to fake news over medical science.”
Quoting the Bible, Minnis pleaded with Bahamians to be their brother’s keepers by getting vaccinated.
“The Samaritan sacrificed himself for his neighbor, who was a stranger,” Minnis said.
“Today, our neighbors are at risk from COVID. Today, our neighbors are dying from COVID. I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you in a spirit of love and unity, to get vaccinated, to protect and to save your life, and to protect and to save the life of your neighbor.”
He added, “The more of us who become vaccinated, the more lives we can save. In this, we can truly be the body of Christ.”
Minnis said over 100,000 people have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine in The Bahamas.
However, the country is currently facing a shortage of doses, with 33,600 AstraZeneca doses due from COVAX next week.
Minnis said last night that The Bahamas is also expecting a shipment of Pfizer vaccines.
“We are also working very closely with CARICOM, and the United States government, regarding a donation of vaccines from the US government.
“I have been in direct communication with the secretary-general of CARICOM to ensure that there is no delay in The Bahamas receiving these vaccines.
“As soon as we have supplies, the Pfizer vaccine will be offered to 12 to 17-year-olds, only with the consent of their parents or guardians.”
Many people anticipating the prime minister’s address last night had expected him to unveil additional restrictive measures aimed at curbing COVID-19, but no additional restrictions were announced.