In the midst of a raging national debate about the future of entertainment events, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) has suggested a list of conditions under which the country’s most popular festival ought to occur.
In a statement on Friday, BAMP’s president Dr. Lynda Williams conveyed the association’s full support for online Crop Over events, whilst warning that in-person events could jeopardize the health of citizens.
However, the epidemiologist noted that a significant increase in vaccinations, sustained ‘low’ positivity rates and increased testing for variants of concern ought to be adequately achieved prior to any resumption of mass gatherings, including the highly anticipated festival.
The suggestions were made, even as the nation’s doctors express continued concern about an overall lapse in COVID-19 surveillance, particularly among the country’s unvaccinated population.
“There are many calls for return of our Crop Over festival in July-August 2021 and we understand the economic and social importance of this cultural festival. While BAMP fully supports virtual (online) events, we propose that in-person events are likely to pose health risks,” Williams told Barbados TODAY.
“Any discussion about the return of in-person events at festivals should centre around the risks of mass gathering and we must decide whether the health metrics indicate that we are also able to relax protocols for numbers in attendance at places of worship, celebrations, weddings, and funerals.
“Ideally, Barbados would need to have a significant increase in full vaccination of the population, a sustained low positivity rate for a minimum of two weeks, significantly increased national surveillance testing for COVID-19 and routine monitoring for variants of concern before relaxation of protocols regarding mass gathering and before our Crop Over festival restarts,” the extensive BAMP statement added.
Once those core objectives are achieved, the organization is appealing for the banning of indoor events, vaccination or risk-based surveillance testing of persons working at events, and rapid testing for all patrons and staff.
“Preference for attendance should be given to fully vaccinated patrons who provide proof of full vaccination completed at least two weeks prior to the event,” Dr Williams told Barbados TODAY.
“Mass gathering should occur in outdoor venues only and face masks be worn correctly with provision for frequent hand sanitization. No market-type mass gathering or curated exhibitions that encourage movement between stalls/ exhibits and potential handling of various products.”
Further suggestions include online pre-registration of events based on negative test results, the provision of health screening questionnaires, a personal limit of one event per day, and close monitoring of each event in collaboration with the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit.
BAMP’s advice comes in the midst of outrage from local promoters over the deafening silence from authorities on the likelihood of the annual festival taking place. Their frustrations have been further increased as overseas promoters like the organizers of Haywire Weekend advertise party trips for visitors to the island.
While the association has expressed satisfaction with the country’s tourism protocols, its leaders are calling for more routine testing of workers in hospitality, education, the protective services, ports of entry and healthcare.
“The frequency of testing would depend on risk, based on the nature of employment, and vaccination status. While such testing has not been legislated in Barbados as in other territories, we urge Government and the Social Partnership to quickly come to a consensus on this issue, for the good of the nation,” the organization encouraged.
“BAMP calls for the release of regular results of surveillance testing for COVID-19 variants of concern (VoCs) and reporting of all results of sequencing done by CARPHA [the Caribbean Public Health Agency] or other laboratories. We believe that our tourism source markets, key medical and economic stakeholders and the Barbadian public have the right to know as soon as new VoCs are in the picture. Early detection of more transmissible variants and aggressive contact tracing will limit transmission and reduce adverse outcomes.
“We advocate maintaining fully automated lab processes to prevent any backlog in testing. As a nation, we must make provision to scale-up testing rapidly when necessary and we support the use of validated private laboratories to increase our testing capacity,” Williams’ statement added.