Come Wednesday, The Bahamas will reopen its borders to visitors via commercial air travel. While the majority of expected visitors will likely come from the neighbouring United States where coronavirus numbers are surging, an entirely different grouping of neighbours – those down in the not so far south – could prove just as worrisome.
As of Sunday, health officials on the Turks & Caicos Islands reported 13 new confirmed cases of the virus and those numbers are expected to climb.
One news outlet there reported over the weekend that 12 of 16 cases reported last week were diagnosed in a 24-hour period, and 11 of those 12 people were infected by a case reported on June 25 after they all attended a party. The Gallery has not been able to reliably confirm that report. However, another source has informed us that those cases stemmed from a training session held at the Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort for the resort’s reopening.
A memo from Beaches sent via email to staff last week noted that they were advised of a suspected case of COVID-19 among its team members. The advisement encouraged staff to continue to adhere to the recommended safety guidelines, which include proper and frequent handwashing, and/or sanitizing, keeping frequently touched surfaces clean, wearing masks in public spaces and observing physical distancing.
In any event, these latest positives bring the overall count of the virus for the TCI to 41 – a nominal number when you look at the stats from other countries. However, it is likely the low numbers can be attributed to the country’s limited testing capacity.
Back in March, former Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told reporters that The Bahamas was assisting TCI with testing as the country had limited capacity to do so on its own.
Of the 41 recorded cases, 29 remain active with two people currently in hospital fighting the virus. Just one person there has reportedly died from it. TCI health officials say aggressive contact tracing and control measures are in the works in hopes of containing further spread. 647 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the TCI, to date.
This could spell trouble for The Bahamas as the infection rate there could be much, much higher than the mere 29 active cases being reported due to asymptomatic carriers. The TCI’s borders remain closed and are not expected to reopen until July 22 but the British Overseas Territory did begin allowing its residents who were stranded elsewhere to return home as of May 22.
See where this is going yet?
A number of Bahamians recently returned home from the TCI after being stuck in that country for approximately three months. More Bahamians who live there will no doubt want to visit their families here and are likely to travel when they can.
The Minnis Administration initially made it mandatory for anyone entering the country – be it visitor or Bahamian – to have a negative Covid-19 test within 10 days travel. However, health officials recently admitted the 10-day span is not foolproof. In fact, they said where testing is concerned “there is no perfect scenario.”
The Prime Minister has since altered that requirement to a 7-day time period, effective July 7.
If any of those persons who recently returned home from the TCI are unknowingly infected with COVID-19, virus numbers could potentially explode here in the capital as well as Grand Bahama, where it is likely the majority, if not all, of those residents live.
Whether that group poses a threat though, there remains the others who will likely visit from that neighbouring country to think about.