With five million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, Dr. Nikkiah Forbes, director of the Ministry of Health’s National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases Programme, said yesterday that COVID-19 is here to stay and will be around for the immediate, foreseeable future. The Bahamas must therefore find a way to live with it, “because we can’t hide away inside forever”.
And with the government considering the reopening of borders for commercial air travel, Forbes presented an idea of what doing business in the tourism sector may look like.
“We will eventually have to travel again and we will eventually want to be opening our borders and allowing visitors. We have to think about social distancing – we’re going to have to do that for a very long time – wearing masks in public, washing our hands, if we are sick, staying at home,” she said during the first Eleuthera Business Outlook Webinar Series that took place virtually yesterday.
“And then we think about the community, where we live, what we can do to make sure that it’s safe to go out, as safe as possible. We can put changes into our businesses, in the hospitality industry, in hotels and other businesses. You can put markers on the floor that helps you facilitate social distancing, you can have hand washing stations, we can reduce gatherings. Maybe we’re going to have to look at things like reducing the amount of people that are going to be in a restaurant.
“There are places – for example we can look at the US – where restaurants have cut down to about 25 percent or maybe we will enjoy things like eating in the open air while we try and keep our distance, all in an effort to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ recent announcement that the government intends to relax restrictions for inter-island travel also stipulated that travelers must register with the Ministry of Health and submit to an evaluation by a ministry-authorized physician before being approved for travel.
In addition to these precursors before travel, Forbes painted a picture of what actual experiences may be at airports and on airlines.
“The truth of the matter is, sometimes you have to travel. So, there have to be ways to make travel safe. One of the things you’re going to see is that at airports, there’s going to be physical distancing. There’s probably going to be a reduction in touch surfaces, you know those kiosks where you can check in, that’s going to be cut down,” she said.
“There’s going to be space between you and the agent checking you in, and probably there will be sneeze guards – those plexiglass guards – in place to try and stop respiratory droplets. Now that’s at the airport level, but there is going to be a screening and vetting process, there will be an application process with forms that are already available on the Ministry of Health’s web page for persons that wish to engage in inter-island travel.”
Forbes said communities, the citizenry and the government will have to strengthen all aspects of response to the pandemic, to ensure that cases remain under control in the new COVID-19 world. That means consistent and robust testing, she said.
“The goal will have to be to test strategically, to test widely, identify cases and when they are positive isolate them, contact trace those persons they came into contact with and isolate them. That is the key to how we can live as safely as possible in this new COVID-19 world we’re going to find ourselves in,” Forbes said.
“People will have to have a symptom check, a physical examination and possibly a COVID-19 test before they can travel and then in a specific period of time, should this be approved, they will be allowed to travel. There will also be measures put into place on planes to try and reduce the crowding, maybe skipping seats and wearing masks and cleaning down the airplane when traveling. We also know that when we’re welcoming visitors, there may be a quarantine period in some of these destinations, where people have to be quarantined for 14 days before they’re allowed to go out their usual activities. Those have to be worked out, but I assure you travel will not be what it used to be and there will be checks and balances in place.”
JUMPLINE: ‘The goal will have to be to test strategically’