It’s not a question of “if” but “when” the new coronavirus, COVID-19, will reach The Bahamas, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
However, he said he is confident that the country is “absolutely” capable of handling the situation that would arise, pointing to the Ministry of Health’s recently released COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan.
“So, the language that you’re hearing from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), from the Canadian public health authorities, et cetera, is shifting, and it’s being shifted for a reason because they want to modify expectations,” he said.
“So, it’s no longer if but when.”
Noting that government’s policy to quarantine residents who have recently traveled to China is the country’s best preventative strategy, he added: “The probability is there will be a case.
“I mean, we’ve already had some 22 Bahamians come home, right? And all of them were in the epicenter or in the area where they could have been exposed, so that is probably our highest risk group right there.”
Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said yesterday that when he last spoke with a number of Bahamian students in China two weeks ago, they were all still in that country but were doing well.
However, some other Bahamian residents in China previously expressed their desire to return home.
Nonetheless, Sands maintained that “it’s going to be a very challenging scenario to imagine that you’re going to have tens or hundreds of patients who require hospitalization”.
According to international media, the CDC recently warned U.S. residents to expect an outbreak of the illness as the cases of infections continues to rise.
The government has an ongoing travel ban against all non Bahamas residents who have visited China from 20 days, prior to January 30.
The Ministry of Health’s response plan also calls for the establishment of remote field hospitals for potential COVID-19 patients, which Sands said would be able to accommodate up to 20 patients.
While Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan told The Guardian that the field hospitals may not necessarily be remote, she highlighted a number of other steps the ministry is taking as part of its plan.
She said it is working with immigration and customs at the country’s borders “to help us identify potential persons coming from the affected areas”; that it is taking “containment measures at the port”; and that it is working with public and private healthcare providers throughout the country to provide “guidelines” on how they can identify a case and handle it accordingly.
“As we move forward now and we are having further spread across countries other than China, we are now working closely with all of those same groupings to actually determine how we will now move forward with ensuring that we have identified places where persons will actually be treated if we were to test,” she said.
“We have testing available now in country, and if we were to test and somebody were positive, then we need to ensure that they were treated in the proper environment. So we are finalizing those things now.”
McMillan said field hospitals would likely be in the form of “tent facilities” where the ministry could “ensure the isolation and treatment with the necessary infection prevention and control measures”.
She said she believes plans for that were finalized as of yesterday, but that as international developments continue the ministry will have conversations with stakeholders and update the preparedness or response plan as needed.