Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA) President Dr. Sabriquet Pinder-Butler yesterday raised concern over the government’s decision to remove travel-related testing requirements for fully vaccinated people, and called for testing to remain in place for everyone traveling.
“The CPSA would like to recommend that due to the widespread transmission of COVID-19 in countries globally, testing should still be a requirement beyond May 1, 2021,” she said in a statement.
“The government may also consider further incorporation of rapid antigen tests in the travel protocol, subsidization of PCR testing or liaising with labs for cost reduction.
“Further support and strengthening of contact tracing protocols are also a necessity.”
Pinder-Butler said that while the CPSA encourages everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to, the vaccine does not guarantee that people cannot catch and spread COVID.
“COVID-19 vaccines, although not 100 percent effective, may provide a high degree of protection against getting seriously ill and dying from the disease,” she said.
“However, the extent to which it keeps you from being infected and from passing the virus on to others is still unknown, hence we reiterate the importance of continuing the preventative measures and taking precautions while we learn more about this.”
For months now, those traveling to The Bahamas from other countries have been required to test negative for COVID-19 by way of an RT-PCR test within five days before entering the country.
Travelers are also required to undergo a follow-up rapid antigen test after five days in The Bahamas.
Those traveling domestically from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Eleuthera are also required to test negative for COVID-19 by way of an RT-PCR test within five days before their travels and undergo follow-up rapid antigen tests after five days.
However, in the House of Assembly last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that fully vaccinated people traveling both domestically and internationally will be exempted from those testing requirements.
He made the announcement as the country continued to see large daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases in what health officials have deemed a third wave.
Pinder-Butler said healthcare institutions are already seriously challenged by the recent surge in cases and called again for the Ministry of Health to engage the union.
“Our healthcare institutions and healthcare workers continue to be challenged during this pandemic,” she said.
“The recent suspension of some hospital-based services negatively impacted our ability to provide patient care. Physicians continue to have workplace exposures while being on the front lines with rising COVID-19 cases.
“Yet, we continue to be excluded from meaningful engagement with policymakers to discuss strategies to reduce the burden of COVID-19 on us, our healthcare systems and the public at large.”
Pinder-Butler also noted that the recent revelation that there are likely variant strains of COVID-19 in The Bahamas could increase the risk for more widespread transmission of COVID and more severe illness among people infected.
“It may also impact our vaccination campaign as some vaccines may work well on some strains but are less effective on others. Additionally, the data confirmed that most of our COVID-19 cases were related to international travel,” she said.
“This information is particularly important for us to ponder as our country is preparing to allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter our borders without COVID testing and will remove COVID testing for vaccinated persons wishing to travel throughout our islands.”
She added, “We understand the importance of revitalizing our economy, given the financial and social challenges faced by thousands of Bahamians and residents.
“However, reopening our borders and reducing COVID-19 restrictions without establishing an appropriate balance between the health and the economy of The Bahamas, will ultimately result in the sacrifices of not only physicians and other healthcare workers, but also the law-abiding public, to be in vain.
“The CPSA hopes that going forward we are meaningfully engaged as an integral part of the fight against COVID-19.”