Health officials put Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in perspective

MINISTER OF HEALTH Dr. Duane Sands and Dr. Cherita Moxey, Senior House Officer, Ministry of Health attended the COVID-19 Information Session at the Grand Lucayan Resort on Thursday, February 13.

Held at the Grand Lucayan Resort, the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) Grand Bahama health Services (GBHS) hosted an information sharing session on Thursday, February 13, on the Novel Coronavirus, now commonly referred to as COVID-19.

The session primary focus was to update stakeholders within the community on the virus and its impact in the country. 

A large contingent of medical professionals, law enforcement agencies, namely officials of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF), Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), Bahamas Customs and Bahamas Immigration among others attended the informative meeting.

Ministry of Health PHA Senior House Officer Dr. Cherita Moxey served as the lead presenter for the event. 

Minister of Health Duane Sands offered remarks during the session, noting that while there have been a few persons quarantined with respect to COVID- 19, there have ben no confirmed cases of the respiratory disease in The Bahamas. 

Dr. Sands said that while the threat of the disease is one not to be taken lightly, it is important to put the fear of the disease into perspective and concentrate our attention on the facts. 

“This is about perspective. I like to talk about perspective, because there has been a huge amount of fear among Bahamians about this virus. You hear all of the stories about Armageddon and the end of the world; now while that is possible, it is highly, highly unlikely. 

“Let us put it into perspective, Dr. Moxey would have said to you that there are some 60,500 cases confirmed, but if you drill down into those numbers you will find that 59,723 of them are in mainland China. One hundred and seventy-five cases are on a Princes Cruise Line stuck off of the coast of Japan. There are some 7.7 billion people in the world, and 1.4 billion of them live in China, which means that of the remaining 360 cases, it is spread out over 6.3 billion people. We talk about the attack rate and death rate in China, but I did some arithmetic and it turns out that the death rate for COVID-19 for the rest of the world is 0.0000000056 percent,” said the Health Minister. 

“There are, across six and a half billion people, less than 400 cases and three deaths – one in Hong Kong, one in The Philippines and one in Japan – that is it. This virus we have known about since December 31, 2019, when the Chinese health authorities reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

“Immediately, the world went into panic. Since that time, we have had 1,200 persons died, the overwhelming majority of them, 99.9 percent of them in China. But, at the same time, since we have been paying attention to this dreadful virus, 10,000 people died from measles. We had two cases of measles right here in The Bahamas last year. Forty thousand people have died from influenza,” he added. 

“Here we have this fear of this new virus; there are no cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. We had 16 people quarantined; we now have seven people quarantined, the rest of them have gone home. Some of them have been quarantined in Grand Bahama; some of them have been quarantined in New Providence,” revealed Dr. Sands. 

In response to the virus, he noted that the Government of The Bahamas did its due diligence in preventing the spread to these shores. 

“What the government decided to do was to pay very close attention to this and to engage every single stakeholder that we could engage. I apologize that we are just now getting to Grand Bahama, but we have engaged Customs, Immigration, the airports, the cruise ports, Ministry of Tourism, etcetera in order to get everyone to have an opportunity to understand what has been happening internationally, in the region and also in The Bahamas. 

“We have been in constant communication with the WHO, PanAmerican Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Heath Authority.  Interestingly, The Bahamas took a more aggressive approach than was recommended, because WHO and PAHO said not to restrict travel,” he noted. 

“You all know better than I, the challenges of Dorian and the impact on health services in Grand Bahama. You know that we have a serious problem not just in Grand Bahama, but also in the restoration of infrastructure, staff, so on and so forth in Abaco. 

“Unlike many other countries we have an archipelago; we have porous boarders. People can come by plane, by boat; they can come legally, illegally etcetera. And so, we made a decision, out of an abundance of precaution, that anyone who had been in mainland China within 20 days presenting to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas would be denied entry, unless they were a citizen or ordinary resident of The Bahamas. 

“The one thing that we are guided by is the Constitution. The Constitution of our country does not allow for a government to deny a citizen entry into the country, but it does, through our legislative authority and the Health Services Act, give the power to the minister and the chief medical officer, the power to quarantine. That power of quarantine has serious teeth. There were some people who were not minded to be quarantined; they did not believe that they should be quarantined. 

“You can be assured that when people are placed under quarantine, they are indeed quarantined and it is being enforced,” stated Dr. Sands. 

He added that numerous conversations have been had with the airlines, cruise lines and the like and they will continue.  

“Let us be very clear, the official position of the Government of The Bahamas is not against Chinese people; it is not against people that look Chinese. It is about protecting The Bahamas from COVID-19. Our beef is not with people, our beef is with the virus. We have to look out for the interest of the people of The Bahamas. 

“I think, as much as you have heard, the government of China deserves some recognition for the most aggressive public health intervention in the history of mankind. They decided that in order to control this outbreak, they were going to lock down Wuhan (China). Eleven to twelve million people and a number of cities surrounding in the area and so, some 50 million people quarantined,” Dr. revealed.

“For all intents and purposes, the country of China has been quarantined and so, while it was possible to get from China last week or the week before unless you can swim, it was not likely that anyone is going to be able to make it out of mainland China. And so, the risk, outside of China and we are talking mainland China, is very, very low,” he added. 

“Remember, that a week and a half ago, there was only exit screening coming out of China. People could come, get on a plane, fly from Canada, Great Britain, Cuba, Panama, wherever, walk off the plane and everything was fine. There were only five airports in the United States that were doing screenings. There were temperature screens; if the person was fine, they could go about their business. 

“Despite that, despite this open approach, there were only 14 cases of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the entire United States. Given the fact that nobody comes directly to The Bahamas from China, although someone tried and was turned away, we believe that what went on before, that there is no significant risk to the people of The Bahamas,” acknowledged Sands. 

During her presentation, Dr. Moxey noted that there was a series of events that occurred which prompted the information session regarding the virus.

“In late December, Wuhan, China, reported a cluster of the disease. Then in late January, the WHO declared that the thing causing this cluster of cases that we now know as the Coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Just a few days ago, they formally reclassified and renamed it as COVID-19,” she explained.

“I think that it is important to dispel the myth that Coronavirus is something new. It has been defined in the medical communities since the late 1980’s.  It is a large family of viruses.  The COVID-19 is a part of the family of these coronaviruses. 

“We know a lot about it, but there are still a lot that we do not know. The precise mechanism by which the coronavirus is transmitted we do not know. We still do not know if it is transmitted by making contact with surfaces, but what we do know from these group of viruses is that, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus and as such, is transmitted through respiratory functions. 

“If an infected person coughs or sneezes and you are in that vicinity, that is a mode of transmission,” she said.

Common clinical features associated with COVID-19 include fever, cough, chills, and in more severe cases, pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. 

The incubation period is anywhere from two to ten days, in some instances even up to 14 days. 

Dr. Moxey informed her audience that the Government of The Bahamas has and continues to take proactive measures with respect to COVID-19, namely to apply travel restrictions and to identify quarantine locations.

Additionally, the Ministry of Health has also developed and disseminated a Coronavirus Preparedness Plan, secured necessary and required supplies. The MOH also continues dialogue with both internal and external stakeholders, utilizes all media platform to keep the public informed and educate persons on standard hygiene practices and well as to deploy medical staff to monitor quarantined persons. 

“The Bahamas does not have any confirmed or suspect cases. All of our efforts are geared towards preventing the introduction of the disease into our shores,” said Dr. Moxey.

In terms of prevention for contracting the disease, Dr. Moxey noted very simple precautionary measure all should take, regardless of the aforementioned virus, which include basic hygiene principles. 

“We should be covering a cough or a sneeze with a tissue, discarding that tissue; when we cough placing our mouth in our elbows, washing our hands. If we are sick, give the person next you some breathing space. 

“These basic preventative measures go a long way and, again, these are things that we should be doing on a daily basis,” said Dr. Moxey. 

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