Prime Minister Davis on strategies to contain Omicron

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From: Bahamas Information Services

Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Davis, in a statement to the media on Thursday conveyed Compliments of the Season to the community, but delivered an additional important message updating the public on strategies to contain the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant.

He said countries around the world are pursuing new strategies to contain the worst impact of the Omicron virus, and “We need to do the same here now.”

He remarked:
“The number of cases here is likely to go up quickly and substantially. I am going to tell it to you straight: because Omicron is so contagious, we could be entering the worst phase of the pandemic. We must do whatever we can to reduce the total number of infections; we want as few of those infections to cause serious illness as possible; and we want to reduce the impact, which unfortunately will be
severe, on our clinics and hospitals.

I have been working with the Min. of Health, Dr. Michael Darville, to consult a variety of experts and professionals, and as a result, we are adopting a number of steps immediately. Please understand that the situation is fluid, and we will continue to adapt and make adjustments to our nation’s strategy as needed. We have acquired hundreds of thousands of medical-grade masks and intend to distribute those in communities across the country in the coming days. COVID is an airborne disease – infectious particles of the virus can hang in the air for hours in indoor spaces, and therefore the right masks can and do make a big difference. We are also implementing new rules at the borders. We are changing the requirements for entering the country: Bahamians and visitors must test negative within three days of entering the country, instead of five, and beginning on January 7th, a negative PCR test will be required for all. Rapid antigen testing remains a critical tool, but a PCR test is more sensitive and can pick up an infection earlier in its course than the antigen test.

Effective immediately, we are changing the rules about the size of gatherings that are permitted. Indoor gatherings should not have more than 20 people, outdoor gatherings no more than 30. We are going to increase outreach so that adults who are vaccinated receive a booster, as the booster appears to offer substantial additional protection from serious illness. (We are also making concerted efforts to reach those who are not yet vaccinated at all – but unfortunately, it will take weeks for those just now receiving first shots to have the protections that the vaccines confer. It is still important – because COVID will still be circulating in several weeks.

Our vaccination efforts will include outreach in inner city communities and to undocumented migrants who may have struggled with online registrations, or access to vaccine venues). We will also be taking new measures to provide technical guidance to businesses, churches, and others so that these places can be made as safe as possible. Because COVID is airborne, ventilating indoor spaces and filtrating the air when
possible can make a big difference.

We continue to progress as quickly as we can to make Covid-testing free. Requests For Proposals will be sought imminently, before we swiftly move to confirming a vendor who can meet the standards which are essential for this programme to work well. We are also taking steps to enhance our ability to respond to infections that require treatment.

We are also taking steps to enhance our ability to respond to infections that require treatment. We are readying to mobilize multiple field hospitals should the number of hospitalizations grow. In New Providence, we are planning to utilize the Nursing School and the National Stadium, and we are in discussions with an international partner to open a field hospital in Grand Bahama.

We are identifying additional options in the Family Islands. Plans include the provision of equipment necessary to support the delivery of care to patients with moderate to severe symptoms.

We are recruiting additional nurses and hospital staff. We are working to build partnerships with multiple international non-profits. There is very hopeful news about new treatments for COVID, and we are working to purchase new medications that can be effective at reducing the severity of the disease. Because there is very high global demand, we will be competing with many other countries to obtain them, so we cannot forecast today the precise date we will have access to these treatments.

We also want to reduce the negative impact that a surge in COVID cases has on routine health services. The South Beach Health Centre is being prepared, so that those services can continue, even as we deal with this new wave of COVID.”

We will in the coming days also launch a new public education programme, to empower Bahamians to keep themselves and their families safe, and to combat the misinformation that continues to spread on social media. Minister Darville and the members of the health team, will provide greater detail about our plans in a moment. But I wanted to provide this update myself, because I want to underscore how serious this moment is for our country.

I have just described a multi-faceted plan the implementation of which requires building a coalition of partners: we will be working with health-care professionals, the COVID Enforcement Unit, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the private sector, and multiple international partners.

The final and most important member of this coalition is you – the Bahamian people. We are all in this together. Everyone is ready to put COVID behind them, especially during the holidays. It has been an extremely difficult few years, and we are ready to relax and celebrate. Unfortunately, the virus has changed, and so our behavior must change, too. I want to emphasize that activities that were relatively safe just last week are no longer safe.”