Need for a coherent, coordinated anti-COVID-19 response

Hopes that the end of this year would see a sizeable reduction in new infections of COVID-19 internationally and a return to pre-pandemic life are slowly dissipating.

In North America, the delta variant continues to be blamed for surges in new infections and hospitalizations.

In recent days, following a steady decline in new infections and hospitalizations, here at home, numbers are also trending upward.

And in parts of southern Africa, but also in Asia, Western Europe, and the Americas, the newest variant of the virus, omicron, is giving rise to increased numbers of infections.

Most disturbing is the lack of reliable information on the efficacy of existing vaccines to protect against omicron. What is already apparent is that omicron is very easily transmissible.

There is ample scientific evidence that confirms that anti-COVID vaccines available in The Bahamas – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson – provide good protection against serious illness, hospitalizations and even death connected to COVID-19. However, only about 40 percent of the Bahamian population has been fully vaccinated.

Last weekend, the government acted pre-emptively in an attempt to demonstrate how seriously it was taking the threat presented by the newest variant of the coronavirus.

Firstly, it mimicked action by Western European and North American governments by reinstating travel restrictions; this time, for travelers from named countries in southern Africa where the new variant was first detected.

They did not add to the list of barred countries as did the United Kingdom.

On November 26, a ministry of health press release encouraged Bahamians to get vaccinated and to follow all the proper anti-COVID-19 health protocols.

This was sound advice except that it did not match the behaviors of government members, some of whom remain unvaccinated and others of whom have become very frequent international travelers, hosts or attendees at crowded indoor events, and casual users of face masks in public.

More disturbing is the minister of health’s advice to the public that as many as 20,000 doses of anti-COVID-19 vaccines presently in-country are nearing their expiration dates while the government displays no urgency in its effort to promote vaccinations among the population.

The government’s conflicting policies and actions on combating COVID-19 are being compounded by its treatment of a request for the Christmas Carnival to return to Nassau. In November, following the announcement of the operators of their return to Nassau in December, the minister of health told the media that no decision had been made on the application.

This was followed on Friday past by a strangely worded press release from the ministry of health that advised that it was awaiting a response to its advice to the carnival operators regarding required enhanced health protocols prior to favorably recommending approval of their application. And the ministry disassociated itself from “false media claims” that suggested that the carnival operators had been granted approval from the government. This, in spite of the fact that carnival equipment has been imported into the country and can be seen at its usual staging area on public grounds at Clifford Park.

Given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the lives of Bahamians from every walk of life over the past 21 months – 705 deaths, 22,836 infections, thousands of hospitalizations, and country-wide serious economic dislocations – we expect that no prior approval could be given for carnival to return to the country ahead of agreement from the ministry of health.

This cannot be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The gravity of the health consequences for the country demands a coherent, coordinated policy.

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