Wells defends day five testing shortfall

By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net

HEALTH Minister Renward Wells yesterday defended the country’s travel protocols after concerns were raised over the number of travellers not complying with fifth day rapid antigen test travel requirement.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, the minister said the low COVID numbers in the country and declining hospitalisations show that the current travel measures are working.

“All I’ll say is the numbers so far are bearing out quite well in regards to adherence and compliance by the Bahamian people to the health protocols,” he said outside of Cabinet when asked to respond to concerns over the issue.

“We have four persons hospitalised as of today, down from the 15 that (were) in hospital on the first of January. I think the health protocols that we have in place are working to the extent that we would like to see them work.

“Obviously as I said, we had a number of holidays which we’ve gone through and so the government of The Bahamas is going to be looking at those… but at present, from what our numbers are seeing, we do have containment of the virus.”

During a Ministry of Health press conference on Friday, health officials revealed that 46 percent of travellers required to take the rapid antigen test five days after arriving in The Bahamas have not complied with the policy since it was implemented late last year.

According to the ministry’s Senior House Officer Dr Cherita Moxey, the figure represents some 21,000 people.

The revelation has raised concern in some circles, with the Progressive Liberal Party’s COVID-19 task force co-chair Dr Michael Darville calling the situation an “alarming” matter that should “greatly concern” Bahamians.

Senator Darville said better enforcement of the current testing regime is needed especially as the country prepares to potentially face new COVID-19 threats.

“They must put the necessary resources to find the manpower to ensure that that is corrected,” he told The Tribune on Monday. “In view of the fact that we have highly contagious strains popping up, we have to do a better job to ensure that visitors as well as residents arriving who are supposed to do follow up testing get those testing done.”

Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA) President Sabriquet Pinder-Butler suggested the country should revisit “some measure of quarantine” until officials can put in place better strategies.

However, Mr Wells did not share the same view yesterday as he only expressed satisfaction with the country’s travel protocols, insisting the measures are working “to the extent” health officials would like to see it.

He also pointed to the fact that less than one percent of those who submitted to the fifth day rapid antigen testing protocol tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Chief Medical Officer Dr Pearl McMillan, 70,000 antigen tests have been performed for travel purposes since the country loosened travel restrictions on November 1, 2020, with 113 of those tests producing positive results.

Yesterday, Mr Wells said the low percentage “speaks to the strength of the health protocols.”

“I think what is instructive, more so, is that point one percent of those who tested, point one percent not one percent, point one percent tested positive with the rapid antigen test,” he stressed.

“It speaks to the strength of the health protocols, it speaks to the fact of us requiring that RT-PCR tests five days before you come, that shortened window and so I think the health protocols so far is are bearing out the way we would like to see it and we’re seeing the results from it in regard to those persons coming in from the country.”

The minister also hit at comments that health officials have dropped the ball with the fifth day testing requirement and that the current travel policies are not working.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the numbers say where we’re at so we’ll be looking at the numbers going forward,” he said. “Remember now, these protocols were in place from November the first. We’re almost two and half months down the road from November the first and as we can see, the circumstance in country is still in hand.”

Total COVID-19 cases remained at 8,004 on Monday after no new cases were reported for that day – a situation attributed to fewer laboratories reporting results on the Majority Rule holiday.

“Consequently, the reported number of COVID-19 cases may not be a true reflection of the burden of the disease,” health officials said.

This comes as officials warn the country to prepare for more infectious variants of COVID-19 as seen abroad that could lead to a potential third wave.

The Bahamas does not currently have the capacity for the genomic sequencing that is necessary to determine if any of the new strains are present in the country.

Yesterday, Mr Wells said the government is looking at ways to secure the tools needed to do so.

“We are looking at that but, in any event,, if we need to we are able to send samples abroad and get the results back very, very quickly,” he said.

“We are testing for COVID-19 (strains) if we see a circumstance that they saw in the UK where the virus was spreading at a particular rate that was unusual in regards to its normal spread then the government of The Bahamas will take normal steps to be able to test.”