Communication to Parliament on COVID-19 By Minister of Health, Duane Sands

Communication 

on 

COVID-19 or 2019Corona Virus 

By

Dr. the Hon. Duane E. L. Sands, M.P.

Minister of Health

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

18TH March, 2020

10:00a.m.
 

Mr. Speaker, during my last communication to this House on 29th January, 2020, we discussed the pneumonia that developed as a result of an unknown cause in Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China, which was reported to the World Health Organization on 31st December, 2019. The pneumonia was later said to be caused by a Novel Coronavirus the world had not seen before.  

One day after my communication, Mr. Speaker, the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. 

As the spread of the virus challenged the international community to its limits, US$675 million was requested to help protect states with weaker health systems as part of the World Health Organization’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. 

By the 11th February, 2020, WHO announced the name for the new coronavirus disease: COVID-19.

Just thirty days later on 11th March, 2020, Mr. Speaker, while speaking at the COVID-19 media briefing, the WHO Director-General declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  He later said, “We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.  And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time."

As many watched global events unfold, confirmed cases after confirmed cases were popping up all over the globe, the Ministry of Health prepared for what was considered the inevitable – that a COVID-19 case would soon find its way to our inviting and beautiful shores.  

Mr. Speaker, you would recall that on 15th March, 2020, the Ministry of Health reported its first case of COVID-19 in the country. The patient is a 61-year old Bahamian female who lives in New Providence. Of note, this case had no travel history outside the country in the 20-days period prior to presentation to a local clinic. The patient was referred to the Princess Margaret Hospital, admitted and placed in isolation while testing was performed to determine the cause of her symptoms. 

Mr. Speaker, the National Reference Laboratory confirmed a positive result in the late hours of 14th March, 2020. Three days later, she continues to be monitored in isolation at the hospital, and is in stable, clinical condition.

Many health professionals and other Bahamians are working very hard, often long hours, to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Ministry’s Surveillance Unit has aggressively undertaken contact tracing activities for this case. 

Mr. Speaker, late last evening we confirmed two additional cases identified through contact tracing.

Mr. Speaker, these contact tracing investigations have revealed that household members of the COVID-19 positive patient traveled to Canada, Trinidad and Dubai - territories with known community transmission. These household contacts have been quarantined and samples taken for testing. Other contacts, including healthcare providers, are being investigated to determine their level of exposure and risk.   A total of 30 contacts of the COVID-19 positive patient have been identified. 

Mr. Speaker, this first case triggered the operationalization of our Health Disaster Plan, and the full activation of the Health Emergency Operation Centre (EOC). Now that we have transitioned from preparedness mode to response mode, the Ministry will share some of its mitigation actions:
 

  •     Re-tooled health services to redirect staff to enhance the COVID-19 response;
  •     Modified existing protocols;
  •     Manned a 24-hour hotline to ensure the public has an avenue to ask COVID-19 related questions and convey concerns its burning concerns; 
  •     Re-doubled efforts to ensure adequate of needed supplies, especially, and Personal Protective Equipment supplies; and test kits;
  •     Augmented public messaging to educate the public;
  •     Embedded advanced policy recommendations to bolster the social, labour, educational and economic response within a National COVID-19 Co-ordinating mechanism;
  •     The dedicated COVID website to go live……….;
  •     Formalized plans to take services to the public in our communities;
  •     Enhanced testing capacity with an additional 750 test kits in county, seeking to order an additional 1000 – 5000;
  •     Tested suspected cases and close contacts of confirmed cases; and 
  •     Collaboration between public health system and private sector for enhanced treatment capacity, and the instillation of a modular unit at the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Mr. Speaker, the steps we take now and in the days ahead will determine the degree of the spread of the Coronavirus in The Bahamas. We all have a role to play. We strongly urge all Bahamians to follow proven public health advice by closely adhering to the following recommendations: 
 

  1.     Maintain a distance of at least 3 – 6 feet between you and others. This is social distancing; and in practical terms means you should avoid recreational and leisure activities, large crowds, playdates, in-person meetings and public transportation;
  2.     Disinfect surfaces regularly.  Examples of these include work surfaces, phones, light switches, door knobs, play toys, tables and floors;
  3.     Wash hands with soap and water. If you do not have access to washing facilities, use hand sanitizers with at least 65% alcohol;
  4.     Avoid unnecessary travel;
  5.     Stay home if you are sick;
  6.     Stay home if you are at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19. These people include the elderly and those who have diabetes, hypertension, lung conditions (example asthma), heart disease and kidney disease.   This also refers to those who already have a weakened immune system such as cancer patients, those on high-dose steroids, pregnant women and those morbidly obese.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Steven Pressfield once said, “The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.”  Each healthcare professional - allied, auxiliary, administrative and clerical staff in this fight stands guard with his shield to help The Bahamas to fight this rapidly spreading disease.  These frontline staff members are to be commended for their dedication and willingness to serve no matter the conditions posed.     

Mr. Speaker, Albert Einstein believed, “that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  As all other countries around the globe, The Bahamas must also strike a balance to protect the health, economy, social and human rights of each Bahamian.  As each new and evolving situation raises its ugly head, the Ministry of Health stands resolute to tackle each issue one at a time. One thing is sure, the Ministry of Health will be unyielding in its pursuit to protect the health of the nation.  Stay Safe Bahamas, adhere closely to the recommended and proven health tips and do not panic.  With the help of God, he will see us through, and assist us to rise above this trying time in our country’s history. 

Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members, I thank you for your attention.