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Sands on defensive

The Nassau Guardian May 1, 2020

Rachel Knowles

As he took responsibility for the decision to allow two Americans who are permanent residents of The Bahamas to fly into New Providence and head home to quarantine, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said he did what he believed was in the best interest of the country.

Sands said the couple donated 2,500 double-swabbed diagnostic test kits for COVID-19 testing, which are in short supply globally.

He said the flight was approved only for the delivery of those items, but he was blindsided when, upon arrival, the donors were on the flight and asked to be allowed to remain in the country.

“The Ministry of Health was prepared to receive a donation of 2,500 double-swabbed diagnostic test kits on Wednesday, April 29th from a private donor,” he said at a press conference.

“The approval issued was for the delivery of the cargo only. The whole world is aggressively competing for test kits. They are very hard to obtain.

“As minister of health, I thought that this was a matter of urgency. We then received a last-minute and unexpected request for the donors, who are permanent residents of The Bahamas, and were traveling on the same private plane, to disembark.

“The plane was here and we had to make an urgent decision. The plane was here to make a much-needed donation. I made the decision to let the couple disembark.

“The pair was not displaying symptoms of COVID-19 upon their arrival, and they were evaluated by a nurse of the airport’s public health surveillance unit. They were instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days and they were tested today for COVID-19.”

Sands defended the decision.

“We have had to literally hunt all around the world to find the tools to take care of Bahamian people,” he said.

“I took an oath. I stand by that oath. And I will search the world over to get what we need. We have gotten over 3,500 test kits, and maybe 4,000, basically through relationships, donations, etc., even when we couldn’t purchase them on the open market.

“I have a duty to make sure that we can test Bahamians. I take that duty very seriously.”

While he acknowledged that details about the passengers should have been listed on the flight plan, Sands said the Ministry of Health did not have access to that information at the time.

“I’m sure [the information] would have been, but that doesn’t mean that that information would have been made available certainly to the health authorities or certainly to myself,” he said.

“As a matter of fact, the information would have been very limited.

“This is obviously something that we look at. And we will adjust accordingly and make sure that the protocols are more deliberate, more clear so that we avoid any similar challenges.”

Asked whether there were more people on the flight, Sands said: “I am aware of two persons, but we will certainly go back and check.”

The revelation that the two American residents were allowed to enter the country and quarantine in their home during a strict nationwide curfew and border closure that has left Bahamian citizens being stranded abroad, was yesterday met with public ire.

Bahamas Consul General in Miami Linda Treco-Mackey said Bahamians seeking to return home will have to show proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19.

“For those who truly desire to go home when the borders open, they have to show proof of testing for COVID-19,” she told The Guardian.

On Monday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government will allow Bahamians to return home. He said all Bahamians returning from the United States will be quarantined at a secure facility upon entry to The Bahamas.

He said the facility will be guarded by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF).

Asked if he would characterize the decision to allow the Americans to remain in the country as a quid pro quo for the donations, Sands said the donations were considered in the decision.

“We put in place policies and procedures, and those policies and procedures will always have exceptions,” he said.

“There are some exceptions if you have a child or a person who has recently come out of the hospital. It is unlikely that that person will be required to go into the quarantine facility. A disabled person is not likely to be required to go into such a facility.

“And so, we would have outlined exactly what transpired in this instance. And a decision was made on the spot based on the totality of the information. We would have recognized the value that the swabs would have provided to the government and to the people of The Bahamas, and yes, I’m sure that entered into the totality of the ultimate decision made.

“The decisions were made on the spot. I take full responsibility for it. If we had to do it again, perhaps we may have done a few things slightly different.”

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