‘Factors outside of COVID science determine why islands still closed’

Director of the National HIV/AIDS Program Dr. Nikkiah Forbes said yesterday that there are “other factors” outside of health that determine why some Family Islands with no confirmed COVID-19 cases have not been allowed to resume normal commercial activity while others were allowed to open.

While appearing as a guest on the Guardian Radio 96.9 show “Morning Blend” with host Dwight Strachan, Forbes suggested that direct flights from Europe to those islands or frequent visitors traveling by boat are reasons certain islands remain closed.

“There are other things that are not related to the science with COVID transmissibility in the cases that may make someone concerned about a particular community,” she said.

“So, in general, say there are neighboring places or places where people can travel in from that are nearby, and other factors that may play a role in general.

“As I understand it, Exuma may have airlift – not at this time – from places in Europe where there are, in fact, hotspots and the infection is not under control.”

Forbes added, “[W]hat about our boundaries? We have 80,000 square miles of ocean that way exceeds our land mass.

“Given our proximity to places where people can boat in and the difficulty in policing or monitoring those boundaries in some places, we have to consider all of that when we say, ‘Okay you can ease restriction of movements and have movements between the islands.’

“So, arguably, maybe some of those places do enjoy persons traveling on boat and that can be very porous, which could increase their risk of having a challenge.

“So, I couldn’t say I totally agree, but remember, my realm is health, which does [play] a large role in considering how policymakers will handle such things, and I’m glad that our policymakers are receptive to our input.”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that Cat Island, Long Island, Abaco and Andros are allowed to resume commercial activity after being closed since late March, as per emergency orders enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ragged Island, Rum Cay, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay were allowed to resume commercial activity on May 4.

None of the islands have had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Exuma, Eleuthera, San Salvador and the Berry Islands have also not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases, but have not been allowed to resume normal commercial activity.

Minnis did not explain why, but the decision not to reopen those islands has received criticisms from some quarters.

Forbes, meanwhile, said it is reasonable that restrictions should be eased in islands with no confirmed cases, but added that those communities could also be more vulnerable because they have never been exposed.

“In that these islands have not had any reported cases, it’s reasonable that restrictions should be able to be lifted there,” Forbes said.

“And I do want to mention that, in that case, that there’s also another very important point: persons in those islands, presumably, they have not had any COVID cases and so, they never would have been exposed to COVID and that they are very susceptible to getting COVID.

“And so, we have to keep in mind that other recommendations and instructions like keeping social distancing, hand washing, not touching your face and the other public health measures are something that really needs to be followed there in those places.”

The Bahamas had 96 confirmed cases of COVID-19 up to yesterday: 74 on New Providence, 13 on Bimini, eight on Grand Bahama and one on Cat Cay.

Bimini has been identified as a hotspot and is on a complete lockdown until the end of the month.

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