Bahamas could return to PCR test requirements for travel amid omicron fears
Samples to be sent abroad for testing to find out whether new variant already in country
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The federal government is considering tightening up travel protocols amidst the detection of a new COVID-91 variant, said Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Michael Darville yesterday.
The omicron variant has already been present in a minimum of a dozen countries all over the world, including Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany, with reports identifying many of the cases in travelers getting back from southern Africa.
We’re concerned that the rapid antigen test will not be adequate enough…
– Dr Michael Darville
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the new COVID-19 omicron strain as a variant of concern, with early evidence suggesting the variant, which was first identified in South Africa, could have the next re-infection risk, though studies are still ongoing.
Darville noted that with the variant being present in multiple countries, the federal government is worried concerning the possible impact because the country’s tourism begins to bounce back after months of closures.
He said while there’s COVID-19 testing on the borders and mandatory testing on cruise ships, the present COVID-19 screening with antigen tests will not be sufficient.
“We’re concerned that the rapid antigen test will not be adequate enough because this variant could be very deadly and if it comes into our country, it could mean difficulties for us to give you the chance to operate effectively and permit our tourism to maintain moving forward,” he said.
“We’re looking very closely at tightening a few of our protocols.”
He noted that the federal government is considering moving back to mandatory RT-PCR testing for travelers on the border.
“Now we have been considering it from the primary day we learned concerning the virus and the new mutations,” Darville said.
“Our borders are probably the most vulnerable areas for the importation of this new strain. That’s being discussed and inside a couple of days, we are going to make a final decision.”
The Bahamas has placed travel restrictions on eight southern African countries amidst the invention of the new COVID-19 variant.
Darville said: “Our travel advisories were clear with the restrictions and as we follow the day-to-day issues because it pertains to the new variant, we should be mindful that there could also be some additional changes because it pertains to our borders and a few of our protocols.
“This thing could be very fluid. Now we have our tourism sector is now rebounding and we should be mindful about how we implement new regulatory regimes.”
There have been mounting criticisms from South African politicians and scientists, who’ve said they feel targeted because they first discovered the variant through their advanced screening program yet they’re being punished with travel bans.
We’ll do all in our power to be certain that Bahamians are protected and we do plan to send samples abroad to be tested to see whether or not the variant is within the country.
– Dr Michael Darville
Dutch health officials announced on Tuesday that they found the new omicron variant in cases dating way back to 11 days, indicating that it was already spreading in western Europe before the primary cases were identified in southern Africa.
Nonetheless, Darville said The Bahamas must remain vigilant because of current difficulties within the healthcare system.
While the federal government has begun taking precautionary measures to defend against importation of omicron, Darville said it isn’t convinced the variant is currently in country.
“But with that being said, the National Reference Lab shall be on alert,” he said.
“We’ll do all in our power to be certain that Bahamians are protected and we do plan to send samples abroad to be tested to see whether or not the variant is within the country.”