The Bahamas government has outlined a series of new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that the authorities here said is causing a fourth surge in the country.
Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. Michael Darville said that among the new measures include the hiring of additional medical personnel; sourcing of new COVID-19 drugs; and entering into a partnership with private sector labs.
He said in addition, the authorities will be offering free Rapid Antigen Tests for asymptomatic residents at multiple centers throughout New Providence and that there will also be distribution of free medical grade masks at vaccination centers starting this week in New Providence.
On Wednesday, the authorities reported that 207 cases of the virus were recorded bringing the country’s confirmed virus toll to 24,476. Most of the new cases were in New Providence where 192 cases were registered.
There had also been one death pushing the death toll to 717. The Bahamas has 1,773 active cases.
“As your new minister, I have been working closely with health professionals in my Ministry over the past three months; preparing for the possibility of new waves of the virus and to better address some of the challenges we encountered during the difficult COVID-19 third wave.
“By way of Health Services Rules we have tightened testing at our borders to reduce the importation of new cases; while refusing to give approvals to mass gatherings throughout the country that can easily become super spreader events as the COVID-19 cases continue to rise,” Darville said.
He said one of the most pressing issues facing the healthcare system is the shortage of nurses, doctors and support staff.
“I am pleased to confirm that next week we will bring on board 12 additional doctors. We are also in the final recruitment exercise to add an additional 50 specialty nurses to our healthcare system. They will provide essential services and we pray that contracts will be finalized early next week.
“Our nurses and doctors have gone beyond the call of duty despite outstanding industrial agreements. I have spoken with the Honorable Prime Minister on these outstanding matters and I assure you, negotiations will begin early next year to finalize these outstanding matters and begin the long awaited promotion exercise across the board, at the Ministry of Health and Wellness,” Darville added.
He said that the country recently signed contracts to acquire new COVID-19 drugs, “including monoclonal antibodies, which have been proven to be effective for rapid recovery from the virus.”
With respect to testing, Darville said as discussed on numerous occasions, one key element in the fight against COVID-19 is the importance of testing. He said the sooner people know their status, the sooner appropriate action can be taken to isolate, provide necessary care and prevent exponential spread.
“In partnership with private sector labs, my Ministry will begin offering free Rapid Antigen Tests for asymptomatic residents at multiple centers throughout New Providence. This is part of our ongoing pilot testing program, prior to the launch of the government’s national free testing program. Once the digital platform is completed that would finally marry testing with contact tracing.
“We know that this Omicron variant is more than 70 times more infectious than all other variants and when someone laughs, sings, coughs, sneezes or simply breathes, the droplets they expel can spread to others who are in close proximity.
“We also know that some of the droplets can linger in the air or on surfaces. This is why frequent, proper hand washing, maintaining distances of six feet from others, avoiding crowded places, cleaning and disinfecting regularly and wearing a well fitted mask indoors and outdoors around people, is important.
“As it is recommended, regardless of vaccination status, you can double mask or wear a medical grade mask. Your government will embark upon the distribution of free medical grade masks at vaccination sites starting this week in New Providence,” Darville said, adding “we know from the science that persons who have been vaccinated are less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
“Vaccines are safe and effective against the severe effects of the virus,” the Health Minister added.