Sen. Michael Darville
Shadow Minister of Health
In Romans chapter 8 verse 37 the bible says ‘In all things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us’.
Today marks the 55th anniversary of Black Tuesday and that scripture comes to mind as I reflect on the events that occurred in 1945 when the late Sir Lynden Pindling of our party, the Progressive Liberal Party, threw the mace out of the window of the House of assembly. This act of courage played a pivotal role in the struggle for equality and freedom for Bahamians of colour. So today as we continue the fight this time against COVID-19 we do so knowing that with Christ on our side the battle is already won.
In my last contribution on April 5th 2020 I sounded the alarm on behalf of cancer patients on Grand Bahama and the family islands who need immediate treatments but don’t have access to oncology services. I spoke at that time of their need of immediate assistance from the government to access lifesaving treatment modalities for these patients. As far as I am aware the called has gone unheeded and these immunocompromised patients are fighting for their lives while all airports remain closed with no special emergency flight available to these patients to get to the capital. With the economic difficulties facing the sick and elderly we recommended that either the government provide transport for these patients to come to Nassau to receive treatment or allow the oncology team to fly to the patients to provide the treatment.
Notwithstanding the strain on the healthcare system at this time and challenges at the Rand Memorial Hospital these patients still need immediate care. We cannot afford to lose any of these patients because of failure to act or due to logistical challenges.
Therefore, once again Madam President, I am pleading on their behalf and on behalf of other Bahamians resident in our family islands who need lifesaving treatment or surgical intervention at the Princess Margaret Hospital for the government to devise a workable plan that will allow these persons to receive the urgent care that they need.
This afternoon I thank God for another opportunity to stand in this upper chamber to make my contribution to this resolution to extend the emergency orders for another thirty days. The last time we met in this honourable place we, on this side, supported another resolution for the extension of the then emergency orders for an additional 22 days which expires to today. On April 5 when the emergency orders were extended, the country had recorded 28 positive COVID-19 cases. With the passing of that order the country remained optimistic that the Ministry of Health had an evidence-based plan to reduce the person to person transmission of COVID-19. We were told by the representative of the government that your plan was adequately funded and the man power resources were in place to effectively reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and flatten the curve as long as public health measures could be enforced by the relevant authorities.
However, after almost 6 weeks of curfews and lockdowns the flattening of the COVID-19 curve projected by the Ministry of Health has still not happened and the person to person transmission of COVID-19 appears to be increasing at an exponential rate in New Providence and Bimini. Today, some 22 days after the extension of the periods of lockdown and curfews, the number of persons testing positive has almost tripled bringing the total number of positive cases in the country as of yesterday to 80. We have read reports of the flattening of the curve in other countries after a 14-day lockdown, but our experience in the Bahamas appears to run counter to that trend. And we ask why is that so.
We submit that the current measures in place by the government and the Ministry of Health are not producing the desired results and the government must make immediate adjustments to all the public health protocols if we expect to see meaningful results in the fight against COVID-19.
We will be challenged to find one person in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas who would not want to see our country return to some degree of normalcy. We all long for the day when we would be able to move freely about, return to our jobs and businesses, go to the stores as the need arises, visit the beaches especially now that the heat of the summer is upon us, and travel whenever we have need to. So, to achieve these freedoms, we understand that there will be a period of hardship while we attempt to contain and manage this virus. But we must not squander these periods of lockdown. Time is not on our side and the longer it takes for the government to reduce the person to person transmission of this deadly upper respiratory virus and flatten the curve our people will remain at risk making it harder to climb out of this hole to restore our local economy.
Since the expiry of the last 22-day extension of the emergency orders the government is now seeking a resolution for a further 30-day extension to the emergency orders without laying in this parliament its revised plans for stopping the exponential spread of COVID-19 particularly on New providence. Given (i) the absence of a plan for the next 30 day extension, (ii) the lack of results in flattening the curve after the last 22 day extension of the emergency orders, and considering (iv) the unfortunate oversights by the PHA and the Ministry of Health that placed healthcare workers at risk along with failure by the ministry of health to conduct immediate testing in Bimini after the unfortunate death of Mrs. Rolle, we cannot support this resolution for the 30-day extension of the emergency orders. It is our view that a 14-day extension would be more appropriate so as to allow us the opportunity to review the progress made in achieving a reduction in new positive cases in the country and to discuss further action that may be necessary to stop the spread of the virus.
The government must firstly be honest with the Bahamian people, as to where we truly are in this fight with COVID-19 to reduce community spread and secondly and they must become more transparent as they seek more public support. This was not demonstrated in the last 22-day extension because many healthcare workers still do not have access to personal protective equipment, they remain in the dark and their advice is not sought when formulating policy decisions. Other than the periodic press conferences by the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister, no one really knows what is happening at our clinics, our ports of entry and why certain sectors of the economy were opened without epidemiological evidence to support the Prime Minister’s decision to do so.
As a healthcare professional and a small business owner, I certainly understand the pressure and the need for the government to get other sectors of the economy up and running but the health and safety of our people is paramount and we on this side cannot support the expansion of economic activity until we are convinced that Bahamians are protected and the government has been able to control the person to person spread of this deadly virus.
In making this recommendation to reduce the period of extension to 14 days we understand the potential risks of having face to face parliamentary meetings but parliaments around the world continue to meet in the midst of this global pandemic to address the people’s business. After the next 14 days, the government will have a further opportunity to outline in parliament the results of their efforts and we on the side opposite will be given the opportunity to seek clarification on behalf of the Bahamian people regarding the results achieved. We are all in this boat together and in this fight against COVID-19 we must all stand firmly on the side of what is best for all Bahamians.
The health and welfare of all Bahamians depend on the proper management of this health crisis by the Government. Therefore, we are now calling on the government to articulate its plan for the next 30 days, share that plan with the Bahamian people, tweak the plan based on medical and public input and execute it.
The PLP reached out to the government on numerous occasions to ensure that there could be a bipartisan approach in the fight against this global pandemic but to date as an important arm of the government we have been pushed aside.
This is truly sad because good ideas are not exclusive to any one political organisation. Countries around the world and in the region have demonstrated political maturity in this fight against COVID-19. Once again, we are saying to the government that we on this side stand ready to help and while we wait, we will not be idle but will continue to do our part as a political organisation in this critical fight to save lives and jump start our local economy.
After watching the crisis unfold from the Sandilands Rehabilitation centre to the Princess Margaret Hospital resulting in some 200 plus healthcare workers being placed in quarantine, the surge of cases in Bimini and the exponential transmission of COVID 19 in New providence it is quite obvious that many of the public health measures put in place by the government by way of the existing emergency orders are not producing the desired results. The Ministry of Health task force must therefore readjust many of its protocols and strategies if we hope to achieve success against the virus.
There is no question that all of our healthcare workers and those on the front line are doing their part and they should all be commended but there is a need for nurses and doctors to be invited to the table when decisions are being made that will to address the risks they are exposed to on a daily basis.
The PLP Taskforce continues to make recommendations on ways we can achieve some degree of success in this fight. As the government presses forward during this further extension to the emergency orders, in the absence of a declared plan, we offer our proposals and recommendations for consideration.
Firstly, it is our view that there is need for greater coordination between government ministries. The team at the Ministry of Health while I am sure they are working diligently, is too small to adequately address or manage the magnitude of the country’s COVID-19 response. Time is not on our side and we must move with haste to gather information and act on it quickly and efficiently to achieve meaningful results. The contract tracing team must be beefed up if we hope to get a better handle on the community spread of this virus. This team should be ramped up to 250 in New Providence, 50 in Grand Bahama and 10 in the Family Islands in order to get the swift coverage necessary for corrective action.
There is also an urgent need to significantly expand the volume of testing in our communities ramping up to 4,000 tests in the immediate future and then expanding to cover 40,000 persons or 10% of our population as soon as we are able to secure the supplies of test kits. We must also ramp up training of health care workers who will be engaged in the testing exercise to prevent false negatives and ensure the overall accuracy of the entire exercise.
We must also move swiftly with securing lab results. To do this we must consider decentralising COVID-19 lab testing facilities by engaging private labs in New Providence and Grand Bahama.
Before I take my seat, I would like to say a few words on the current state of the Rand Memorial Hospital.
The government and the minister of health should hang their heads in shame because the people of Grand Bahama deserve better. I say to four ministers and five MP’s from Grand Bahama where is your heart, do you have a soul. After almost one year in a make shift tent hospital the Rand Memorial staff are all demoralised. There are multiple safety concerns for patients and staff at that facility and in case you don’t know patients and staff are highly upset and are now refusing to be subjected to this primitive from of healthcare. For God sake man stop dragging your feet with the renovations the hurricane season is upon us again, please get our nurses, doctors, support staff and patients out of these compromised tents, it has been going on for too long.
Finally, as we continue the fight against COVID19 I would like to take this opportunity once again to thank all healthcare and other essential workers throughout the country for your sacrifice, your acts of kindness and patriotic spirit.
May God keep us all during these difficult times