All COVID-19 Regulations to End on August 13, Government Has Announced
Hon. Philip Davis, Q.C., M.P.
Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Beginning August 14, there will be no requirements for visitors to The Bahamas to have a negative PCR test, no limits on the size of gatherings, and no requirements for masks. These and other health measures are authorized through the Emergency Orders, which the government has said will expire on August 13th, despite rising cases and hospitalizations, a nursing shortage, the circulation of highly transmissible variants, and a public health system that is at capacity.
We have long called for any necessary health regulations to be enacted through legislation in Parliament. But the Minnis government swore for months that the Emergency Orders were necessary and has yet to bring forward any legislation to safeguard the country from COVID-19, and Parliament is not scheduled to reconvene until the end of September.
The government’s reactive, “wait-and-see”, improvisational approach has failed our country again and again. They never plan ahead, and they never learn, even when lives are at stake.
We are urging the government to enact health policy that is driven by facts and by science, not by their perceived short-term political interests.
The PLP COVID-19 Task Force has shared the following ten recommendations:
- Speed vaccinations. Adequate vaccine doses must be immediately sourced. The Competent Authority has not purchased nearly enough vaccine—it has contracted enough doses for only a sixth of the population—and has known for months that COVAX doses would be delayed. Borrowing 5,000 doses from Antigua and Barbuda is not adequate when hundreds of thousands of additional doses are needed. We must access other credible medical supply chains to get FDA-approved vaccines and prioritize sourcing vaccines with the best efficacy against emerging variants. Even with the new COVAX announcement, our country remains hundreds of thousands of doses short; nearly every other Caribbean nation has vaccinated a larger share of their population.
- Prioritize public education. Public education efforts continue to be almost invisible if not non-existent. Admonishing Bahamians to get vaccinated does not qualify as public education; the public’s response to being berated daily speaks for itself. A media campaign and town halls with medical professionals should be organized to address the public’s questions about vaccines and to help Bahamians reduce risk in their daily lives.
- Expand testing and make it free. Widespread and frequent rapid testing remains an important way to stop transmission chains and avoid lockdowns. COVID-19 tests should be free for all Bahamians and rapid antigen testing expanded as a risk mitigation tool.
- Improve contact tracing. We continue to receive reports that contact tracing is happening too slowly or not at all. This is an important public health tool that has been under-utilized. Primary and secondary contacts should be reached within 24 hours of a patient receiving a positive test result.
- Hire and retain nurses. It is vital that we hire, train, and retain medical professionals; pay them what they are owed; and consult them on how best to manage the pandemic.
- Procure better masks. High-quality masks are needed, especially for those who interact with large numbers of people in the course of their employment and for those whose underlying medical conditions make them susceptible. The government should provide medical-grade masks to frontline workers, including health care professionals and immigration, police, and defence force officers, as well as making a supply available to the general public.
- Improve ventilation. It has been clear for at least a year that COVID-19 is an airborne virus, but the government has provided no technical guidance or support to improve indoor air quality in schools, health care settings, churches, workspaces, and multi-generational homes.
- Isolate. Providing safe, adequate facilities for COVID-19-positive individuals to isolate will protect families and communities. Isolation protocols must be in place for hospitals and clinics.
- Track the science. New studies are published almost daily regarding vaccine efficacy against the Delta variants. The Competent Authority should consult with scientific, medical, and business communities regarding testing requirements for vaccinated travelers and make these consultations transparent.
- Build trust. Pandemic spending must finally be made transparent. The details of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending remain undisclosed to the public. The Competent Authority cannot ask the public to trust its leadership while it violates its own laws.