STATEMENT TO THE MEDIA BY MINISTER OF HEALTH DR. MICHAEL DARVILLE, MP ON THE OMICRON VARIANT OF COVID-19

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Health Minister Michael Darville

In his address on December 24, 2021, The Prime Minister advised the nation of the increase in COVID-19 infections in our country and over the last few days, we have seen sharp increases in persons testing positive for COVID-19 here at home.

The Omicron variant is the most highly transmissible COVID variant yet, causing soaring case numbers across the world. Many countries are seeing exponential growth, and their highest case counts yet since the start of the pandemic. We should expect the same here.

The Omicron variant can infect those who have previously tested positive for the virus as well as those who have been vaccinated which means the Omicron virus is finding little resistance as it spreads throughout our communities.

Thankfully, most of the people who are vaccinated will experience no symptoms or mild symptoms. Unvaccinated persons have a higher risk of getting COVID, being hospitalized and dying from COVID.

There are no easy answers for dealing with the coming surge in cases and care must be taken to strike the right balance between our country’s health crisis and economic well being. Many Bahamians are earning their family’s first regular pay-checks since COVID began nearly two years ago. The impact of the economic crisis on our families has been as severe, and in many cases, more severe, than the impact of the health crisis. We’re simply not going to shut down all economic activity.

However, we can all work together on multiple fronts to slow the transmission of this virus and reduce the impact on our families and our hospitals.

As you know, we did not allow the Carnival to take place. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one.

We are tightening rules for entering the country in order to reduce the number of cases that are imported.

We have taken the decision effective immediately, to limit all gatherings to a maximum of 30 persons outdoor and 20 persons indoor until further notice. According to the rules, persons should provide a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.

At our press conference early next week we will announce details regarding the distribution of free medical-grade masks and the roll-out of free COVID-19 pilot testing in New Providence.

COVID is primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory particles. This is mainly through close range contact within 6 feet. COVID can also be transmitted by the airborne route. Infectious particles of the virus can hang in the air for hours in indoor spaces and poorly ventilated spaces and therefore the right and properly fitting masks can and do make a big difference.

We are finalizing technical guidance for businesses, churches, and others to improve ventilation and air filtration.

We are also increasing outreach for the ongoing procurement of vaccines because vaccines remain the best way to reduce the severity of the disease and death. We are working to procure treatments for COVID-19 and we are taking steps to enhance our hospital capacity.

The Prime Minister and I are in contact with multiple international non-profit groups with expertise in COVID relief because this is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

We are also preparing a new public education programme so Bahamians can have reliable information about the Omicron variant.

As we gear up to respond to this latest challenge from COVID-19 the Prime Minister’s words of warning are worth repeating:

“Activities that were relatively safe just last week are no longer safe. Being together with others outside of your own household has become much riskier.

The Omicron virus is re-writing the rules. It is very, very easy to catch. But that doesn’t mean giving up – there are lots of steps you can do to protect yourselves and your families:

Avoid gathering with people from outside your household.
Outside is always safer than inside; limit your time indoors to the extent possible.
When you’re inside – open as many windows and doors as you can, to reduce the number of virus particles in the air.

Wear your masks, especially indoors. Universal mask-wearing in public places can help to reduce COVID-19 incidence by more than 50%. Masks should be made of layers of tightly- woven fabric and without gaps. Properly fitting masks fit snugly over the nose, mouth and chin without gaps. Double masking enhances protection. Individuals may opt to wear N95 or KN95 respirators which are available commercially.

If you are vaccinated, get your booster shot.

If you are unvaccinated – please get your jabs now. Billions of people worldwide have been vaccinated safely.

If you have been exposed to someone who tested positive, or if you have cold or flu symptoms, please get tested, and please do not go to work or gather with others.”

We will continue to closely monitor the rate of transmission of the virus and will provide regular updates regarding progress and on new developments as they arise.

I wish you and your families a safe and healthy holiday season.