As fears of the coronavirus spread globally, health officials announced yesterday that the government has implemented a travel ban on all non residents of The Bahamas who have visited China in the last 20 days.
Residents will be allowed to return, but will have to be quarantined for 14 days.
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands revealed that so far two Bahamians who returned are already being quarantined at an undisclosed location.
Earlier in the day, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the virus – which originated in Wuhan, China, last month – a global health emergency.
“Following the Level 3 travel advisory issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concerning the recent coronavirus outbreak in China, along with travel restrictions in France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Jamaica and other sovereign nations, the government of The Bahamas has implemented a travel ban restricting all travel from China to The Bahamas,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said during a press conference at the ministry yesterday.
“Effective immediately, any non-resident, regardless of nationality, who has visited China in the last 20 days will be denied entry into the country.
“All residents returning to The Bahamas will be strictly quarantined and
monitored for development of symptoms for the duration of the incubation period for a maximum of 14 days.”
McMillan confirmed that as of yesterday “there have been no suspected, reported or confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus in The Bahamas”.
However, Dr. Esther de Gourville – a representative of WHO and of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) who also spoke during the conference – said the quarantine of two individuals was done as a precaution.
“Evidence suggests that the incubation period, the period between exposure to the virus and coming down with symptoms, could be as long as 10 to 14 days; and evidence also suggests that persons may be asymptomatic and still able to transmit the virus to others,” de Gourville said.
“So the idea of quarantine is to minimize the risk of transmission from persons who may have been exposed to the virus and as yet [are] not manifesting symptoms, to their close family members or to the medical services if they develop symptoms.
“So the quarantine is a period of observation and, should symptoms develop, medical care will be offered to persons of concern.”
Noting that there are 160 Bahamian residents presently in China, Sands said the government will not be evacuating those individuals.
However, he said that those who wish to return have been in communication with the government, and the Ministry of Health along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been working together on a “schedule” for the arrival of those individuals.
“We have been in constant communication with not just students but other Bahamian nationals and they are being advised to let us know when they are planning on arriving; and once they arrive – no matter what happens along the way in terms of the screening that they go through, typically they will travel through Canada, the United States, Great Britain or Cuba — once they arrive in The Bahamas, starting today, every person who has been in mainland China will be quarantined,” Sands said.
Highlighting the need for “ongoing surveillance of our borders”, McMillan said the Ministry of Health will hold meetings with U.S. Border Control, Nassau Flight Services, fixed based aviation operations such as Odyssey, other airline operators and other officials regarding the virus and the ban.
In the meantime, she echoed Sands’ earlier recommendation for Bahamians who necessarily must travel in China to take extra care to protect themselves from the virus.
McMillan also urged Bahamians to follow standard recommendations for preventing infection as well as avoiding misinformation on social media.
She said the ministry’s “preparedness and response plan” will be revised again today and distributed.