The Nassau Guardian May 8, 2020
Bahamian citizens and Bahamas residents who land in the country today will be taken to quarantine facilities upon arrival and only those whose homes have been evaluated and deemed fit for self-quarantine will be permitted to return to their residences, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen said yesterday.
The Nassau Guardian understands that the group arriving on New Providence will be taken to a Cable Beach hotel; a group is also due to arrive on Grand Bahama.
“It’s not a communal set up,” Brennen told The Nassau Guardian. “Everyone will have their own room. It’s a safe facility. There are some homes that we already said yes to; they can go home once they sign an agreement.”
In total, 200 people are scheduled to be flown out of Florida on Bahamasair flights today, six weeks after the prime minister ordered the borders closed in an effort to contain COVID-19.
That decision has been criticized in certain quarters and there had been mounting pressure on the government to allow Bahamians to return home.
At a Ministry of Health press conference yesterday, Brennen said, “We have realized that the way to make sure that we’re protecting our populous is to ensure that we put in place parameters for people who are going to be able to come into the country and come into either a government quarantine facility or be able to go home.
“So at the beginning of the exercise, basically we will be doing a risk analysis for everyone.
“We’ll be doing an evaluation of those who request to have the ability to be able to go into home isolation or home quarantine.”
While he had initially said that those coming in would have to stay in a government quarantine facility that will be guarded by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis later said they will have the option to quarantine at home.
Brennen said either the Ministry of Health or Department of Social Services will evaluate homes. If they are determined suitable for quarantine, returning citizens and residents would have to sign an agreement pledging to follow quarantine rules and continue to be monitored by the Ministry of Health.
“Then we can be assured that there won’t be any issues with ongoing risk to the community by introducing them into the wider Bahamian populous,” he said.
Brennen could not say how many homes have already been evaluated. He also could not say how many people have already requested that they be allowed to quarantine at home and how long it will take to evaluate each home.
He said the quarantine facilities have sufficient space for the number of people entering the country.
“The facility that we have identified at present is one that was put together, designed for the number of people that we know are coming in right now,” he said.
“So, it’s sort of a chicken and egg situation. If we know how many people are coming in, we find a suitable location of that size.
“However, if we were to find out that there were going to be more people who were coming, we would find another facility of a larger size. So, it’s really just formed to fit what our function is going to be.”
It also remains unclear how effectively the ministry will be able to keep tabs on those returning residents as Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, advisor to the prime minister, said yesterday that the government lost track of 12 people who had been in quarantine.
She said the individuals’ quarantine periods had expired, but they have been unreachable for follow-ups since then.
“Many have graduated out of quarantine,” she said.
“Twelve of that number, we have not been able to find.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan said authorities are looking for a solution to the problem, but suggested it’s not too big an issue.
“We would have under 300 persons in quarantine now,” she said.
“We have over 1,000 or so who we would have had in quarantine. And 12 of that number is not so bad. But we will be enhancing our capacities to ensure that we are putting in place a stronger measure to be able to track our quarantined persons.”
Hundreds of Bahamians have been trapped abroad since the borders closed on March 27.
There have been criticisms that the return policy has not be fairly administered, however.
On Wednesday, an Eyewitness News online report confirmed that Lyford Cay resident Betsy Dingman returned to The Bahamas from California on a private plane last week after being stuck in the United States for five weeks.
According to that story, Dingman did not say who specifically approved her return, but said she “filed the right papers and got the right protocol”.
Asked whether residents like Dingman were required to be evaluated upon arrival in the country, Dahl-Regis said they were.
“Your premise is that it is inequitable,” she said in response to the question.
“We say to you that it is not. We have done the same procedures in terms of monitoring, in terms of assessment of the adequacy of the facility to isolate, and there is daily monitoring and testing being offered at the end of the quarantine period,” she said.
Last week, The Guardian revealed that two Bahamas permanent residents who are American citizens (later revealed by the prime minister to be six people in total) were allowed to land on New Providence.
Dr. Duane Sands, at the time minister of health, took responsibility for allowing them to disembark and quarantine at home as they donated 2,500 COVID-19 testing swabs to the Ministry of Health.
Unlike Bahamians abroad seeking to get home, they were not required to test for COVID-19 prior to coming to The Bahamas.
The matter led to Sands’ resignation from the Cabinet on Monday.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, who has assumed the health portfolio, did not attend the Ministry of Health’s press conference yesterday.
His office said he had other matters to attend to, but is expected to hold a press briefing “in the near future”.