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Wells: Bahamas cannot handle influx of COVID-19 patients from outside the country

The Nassau Guardian April 3, 2020

In response to the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) recent directive to cruise ships telling them to continue to remain at sea and to send severely ill patients to the country under which the ship is flagged — many of which are registered in The Bahamas — Minister of Transport and Local Government Renward Wells said in a statement yesterday that The Bahamas’ health system is not designed to accommodate an “influx” of COVID-19 patients.

“We are indeed grateful for the tremendous generosity and kind assistance rendered by the United States during that catastrophic and challenging period,” Wells said, referring to the United States’ assistance to The Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian last year.

“However, we recognize that, as a result of Hurricane Dorian, The Bahamas is still functioning with limited capacity and capabilities; socially, economically and financially.

“What we have not been able to do is to take people from ships ashore in our population centers.

“We are a small island developing state with a national population in the three hundred thousand. We are proud of the medical care that we afford our people, but it is scaled to our population size.

“Our system is not designed to deal with a massive influx of new COVID-19 patients from outside our country.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed Wednesday, as he updated the nation on COVID-19, that his government was in discussions with the United States about the USCG directive.

The USCG’s Marine Safety Bulletin for March 29, explained that medical facilities in South Florida are stretched thin by COVID-19.

“Medical in the Port of Miami [are] no longer accepting MEDEVAC patients due to limited hospital capacity and it is expected that neighboring counties will follow suit,” the bulletin read.

“Foreign flagged vessels that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas, particularly those registered to The Bahamas, that require MEDEVAC to a shoreside facility, should seek flag state support prior to seeking support from the limited facilities in the U.S.”

The bulletin, signed by Rear Admiral E. C. Jones, also suggested that patients being treated aboard cruise vessels, may have better “access to comfortable surroundings and medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel”.

The USCG also suggested to cruise companies that if they have more than 50 passengers remaining on board, they should increase their medical capabilities.

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