Vaccines, variants and tourism

Tourism is one of its primary industries, but the archipelagic nation of Seychelles – which is the most vaccinated country in the world – is implementing heightened restrictions due to a surge in COVID-19 cases its health minister describes as “critical”.

More than 60 percent of adults in the east African nation have been fully vaccinated, ahead of Israel’s 55.9 percent, but active COVID-19 cases jumped by 75 percent in a single week between April 28 and May 3, according to the country’s health ministry.

Bloomberg reports that Seychelles has administered both the AstraZeneca and China’s Sinophram vaccine, and that the South African variant was identified there last year.

Despite Israel’s heavily touted success in its vaccination effort, the country’s head of public health services called on government last week to implement travel restrictions for countries with high coronavirus infection rates, according to the Times of Israel.

Israel has reported breakthrough COVID infections – which are infections that occur in fully vaccinated people – and both the South African and the Indian variant have been identified in those infections.

The United States is among a number of countries that have instituted travel bans for India, and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that as of April 26, 9,245 breakthrough infections were reported in the US, including over 800 hospitalizations and over 100 deaths.

Over 95,000 million people were fully vaccinated as of April 26, and the CDC advises that the country’s breakthrough infections are undercounted, noting that its surveillance system “is passive and relies on voluntary reporting from state health departments which may not be complete. Also, not all real-world breakthrough cases will be identified because of lack of testing.”

In Trinidad, which has administered twice the number of doses as The Bahamas though at a lower rate per capita, its chief medical officer (CMO) has sounded the alarm about the COVID deaths of young people with no comorbidities.

During a press conference this week, CMO Dr. Roshan Parasram said Brazil’s P1 variant is contributing to the country’s recent explosion of cases that has resulted in a lockdown.

There were at least 126 known P1 variant cases in Florida as of last week, a deadly and highly transmissible variant that has contributed to thousands of daily deaths in Brazil.

And in an effort to protect its borders from the importation of the P1 variant, Jamaica, which has suffered hundreds of deaths in its variant surge, has imposed a travel ban on Trinidad and Tobago.

What does this all mean for The Bahamas?

The World Health Organization has warned that countries where vaccination coverage is low should avoid relaxing COVID measures – an admonition that applies to The Bahamas where only approximately seven percent of adults have been partially vaccinated.

The protocol relaxation that could carry the greatest risk – the removal of testing for fully vaccinated travelers – is now in effect, with Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar touting increased demand, while acknowledging the problem of fake vaccination cards.

It is a problem his ministry has yet to devise a solution to.

The Bahamas needs tourists, and it also needs a government that will pay attention both to its health professionals, and to examples of countries with far better vaccination levels that are taking no chances with the risk of deadly variants that are impacting vaccine effectiveness.

The world looks in horror at India’s COVID crisis, but what should be recognized is the crisis did not reportedly come without warning.

Reuters reported this week that a group of scientific advisors set up by India’s government warned in early March of a new variant spreading through the country but, “despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to stop the spread of the virus”.

Tuesday’s report of daily cases reminded the country that the surge which began in March is not abating, though markedly lower testing on the two days prior might have given some that impression.

We have previously expressed the importance of not wagering the country’s safety and its fragile healthcare system in pursuit of the tourist dollar.

It is a gamble in the face of deadly variants that The Bahamas is in no position to win.

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