Government is adding to the number of beds for coronavirus patients, expand testing, open new quarantine stations and commission two new vaccination buses as it moved Tuesday to stem growing pressure on health care resources amid a new wave of infections driven by the Delta variant.
The cost to taxpayers for the latest COVID response is $47 million.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, Minister of Health and Wellness, MP for the City of Bridgetown, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic, said Government ensured it planned ahead, “otherwise the current surge in cases we are seeing could have been a lot worse”.
“Delta is having an impact on our numbers and the response required,” he said. “Two months ago, the Ministry of Health started doing some contingency planning because while we did our best to delay the arrival of Delta, we knew it would come since that’s what was happening all over the world, including in some of our CARICOM neighbours. So we took up our contingency plan based on the COVID-19 virus we started with, and having experienced the Alpha and now the Delta variants, we had to make some changes and enhance our response.”
Lt Col Bostic, who was speaking on a resolution to approve $47,730,276 for his ministry to finance the effort, outlined how the funds would be allocated.
He said: “With expanded isolation centres we needed additional funding to equip them. For example, we had to enhance our capacity to swab people, take samples and return their test results in a timely fashion, so we needed more equipment, services and personnel.
“We also had to ensure we had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, and given the issues we had in the first three months of the pandemic early last year in terms of getting those supplies here, we made sure we got four months supply of everything, so we had to get more PPE, reagents and so on.
“We have also purchased a specially designed truck that will allow us to do more community testing, and this can also be used to take the vaccines into communities, especially in rural areas. What is happening now requires a significant community effort and we have started that by having teams go out into different areas based on the epidemiology of the pandemic at this time. We are hoping to obtain a second vehicle through the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to get more flexibility in our response.”
The minister also spoke on the upgrades taking place at the Harrison Point coronavirus hospital.
“We are transforming the secondary isolation building at Harrison Point to be more like the primary isolation facility by putting oxygen into that building,” he told lawmakers. “We may eventually put oxygen in the tertiary isolation facilities as well. We recognise what is happening regionally and globally with oxygen supply, so we have purchased two oxygen plants and two more are scheduled to arrive within the next few weeks.”
He appealed to firms whose workers may have come down with the virus to do things differently when it came to sending employees to be tested, since the practice of sending all employees, plus their family members and other people they may have been in contact with, to be tested all at once, put additional stress on the health authorities.
“In January and February our biggest challenge was at the lab, because we had situations where one person within an organisation tested positive, and the management sent the entire staff to be tested,” he revealed.
“This overwhelmed the system, because we had thousands of people showing up, many of whom were secondary or tertiary contacts, and if you don’t have the ability to deal with primary contacts and put them in hotel quarantine this can make things worse.
“There must be some order in how we do things. Once it is organised properly we can establish timelines as we did back then, so that certain categories would know they would not get back test results in a day or two because they are not primary contacts.”
He stressed that Barbados is not overwhelmed at present, but urged Barbadians to do their part to ensure they did not reach that stage as the ex-army officer reprised a trademark expression.
“’No retreat, no surrender” applies even more now,” he declared. “You retreat when you do not follow the protocols, like if you have a hike and forget all the protocols afterwards. You are surrendering when you don’t wear the mask and congregate in large numbers. We need everybody on board in this battle.” (DH)