The Tribune Sunday May3rd, 2020 By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
UPDATE: With regards to the American permanent residents who were allowed into the country to bring COVID-19 test kits last week, the Prime Minister said that it was, in fact, six people (all related) who were allowed to disembark – not the previously stated two. All have tested negative for COVID-19 and are under mandatory 14-day quarantine. The Ministry of Health will issue a statement on the issue on Monday.
FORMER Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe connected Health Minister Dr Duane Sands with the Americans who brought test kit swabs to the country last week and were controversially allowed to quarantine at their home afterwards.
Mr Wilchcombe says the donation was never intended to be controversial but was a response to the pressing need for COVID-19 resources.
“It took a while to locate the test kits,” he said. “Within four to five days, we were able to get them down to Florida and get them home. They weren’t anywhere around and only certain companies can purchase them.”
Mr Wilchcombe said his contacts were people in the medical and science fields, which allowed them to secure the supplies.
“I know them, they said they wanted to help, they called me up and we went from there. I passed it on to the government.”
He said he does not believe Dr Sands knew who the donors were before he connected them.
Last Thursday, Dr Sands defended his decision to allow two American permanent residents entry into the country and to quarantine at home, saying they brought much-needed COVID-19 testing supplies.
However Dr Sands suggested he was blindsided by the Americans’ arrival on Bahamian soil, saying the tests were flown on a cargo flight and once in the country, the donors asked for permission to disembark.
He took responsibility for the matter and said he made the decision to allow the two Americans to disembark, but later conceded if he had to do it again, some things might be done differently. Officials were awaiting the Americans’ COVID-19 test results, he added. At the time, he could not say if others were on board the flight.
The matter has sparked at times furious criticism over what some see as a favour to wealthy foreign residents when many Bahamians have been denied the chance to return to the county for over a month.
Mr Wilchcombe said: “The minister said we are having difficulties getting the test kits and the call has been to find them, wherever you find them, fly them and get them in.”
He said he believes proper protocol was followed. However, he declined to give his views on what happened to the donors once they arrived in the country, saying: "The minister made a decision, the government side made a decision.”
Mr Wilchcombe continued: “Are we testing our people efficiently? No, we are not. I think we’ll be able to have a clear and definite picture as to where we are once we test more people because we could have low numbers that could mean you simply weren’t testing enough. The donations will help with this.”
Now, he said, the government must bring Bahamians home.
“Bahamians haven’t come home yet, that to me is the controversy,” he said. “Bahamians want Bahamians home. You need the test kits and you need your people home.”
For more on this story, see Monday’s Tribune.