Government’s decision to welcome tourists from high-risk Coronavirus (COVID-19) infected regions without mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival has been met with tremendous concern from an independent physician as well as the Opposition People’s Party for Democracy and Development (PdP).
The officials believe that the protocols for the country’s re-opening announced by Prime Minister Mia Mottley and other Government ministers last Friday could undo months of work by public officials to rid the country of the dreaded virus.
PdP spokesperson on health Paul Gibson – a longstanding pharmacist, warned that a decision to accept negative tests that were taken 72 hours prior to arrival from cities like Toronto, London and New York City ran contrary to “good” science and could undo weeks of progress that led to the suppression of all active COVID-19 cases.
“Everybody is looking forward to coming to Barbados and going on vacation, but we have to ensure we protect ourselves. Just a few weeks ago, we closed schools and banks and people were laid off for up to six weeks. Are we going to just throw that all to the wind in one because we want to open the doors for tourists? No, we need to be more responsible than that,” Gibson told Barbados TODAY on Monday.
This suggestion was reinforced in a separate interview with respected family physician, Dr Adrian Lorde who urged public health authorities to better balance the need for economic activity with the “legitimate health concerns”.
After meetings with the Social Partnership last Friday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley revealed that there were no objections to re-opening the island’s borders to flights from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America within the next two weeks.
Officials then explained that travellers from outside the Caribbean would be asked to take a COVID-19 PCR Antigen test just 72 hours before visiting Barbados.
Gibson however warned that a 72-hour window was more than enough time for prospective visitors to contract the disease as he pleaded with Government to maintain mandatory testing and quarantine measures.
“I don’t know who is making these decisions, but sometimes I get very concerned when people jump on a bandwagon without following the science. We would possibly have to brace for a massive increase in COVID-19 patients, because you may get persons who are at day six of their viral load increase and on day seven, they are actually infectious and they don’t know,” Gibson said.
“So I think they really need to go back to the drawing board with that strategy because something is not scientifically correct and I don’t know who is advising them, but from a medical standpoint, the advice is not sound,” he added.
When asked to comment on the Government’s decision, Dr Lorde acknowledged that accepting CARICOM citizens under relaxed protocols was a calculated risk. He however warned that visitors from North America and other high-risk regions ought to be met with more scrutiny.
“If you are coming in from North America – particularly Florida where cases are soaring right now, there must be extreme caution. New York is showing a little dip right now, but the risk of persons travelling here with the Coronavirus is still high. We have to balance between economic activity and the health concerns,” the family physician warned.
“Getting a COVID test 72 hours before travel does not mean they will not have COVID by the time they get here and because the virus carriers can be asymptomatic, I would recommend that they have another test when they come here to be sure.
“Quarantine should also be encouraged whether it be in one’s own environs, at a government facility or a hotel… We can’t stop Barbadians from coming back and we also need to get some commercial activity. There will always be risks involved, but we need to put things in place to identify persons who may have COVID-19. So I would definitely test them again on arrival, hold them until the results are available and if negative, then a decision ought to be made based on that,” Dr Lorde suggested.
Antigua and Barbuda recorded 39 cases of COVID-19 shortly after re-opening its borders to tourists prompting the Gaston Browne-administration to demand that all visitors undergo mandatory quarantine.
On Friday, the European Union took a decision to block Americans from travelling to the bloc as it attempts to maintain control of the virus which wreaked havoc in Italy, Spain and France this year.
Numerous US states have also started demanding that citizens from other high-risk states undergo 14-day quarantine.
Pointing to these measures, Gibson again called for Government to place the health of the nation over economic prosperity given that over 95 per cent of Barbados’ cases were imported.
“This is a new dispensation where we are looking to invite persons from COVID-centric places like New York, Canada and the UK into Barbados with COVID-19 and this is where the concern will be, where we are introducing new elements of COVID-19 into Barbados through our ports.
Read our ePaper. Fast. Factual. Free.
Sign up and stay up to date with Barbados' FREE latest news.