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TCI: A Vaccination Story

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#TurksandCaicos, April 2, 2021 – Mr. Speaker, I can proudly stand here and say that I am fully vaccinated and I want to put it on record my gratitude to all those that have made the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine so readily available on our shores and who have been working tirelessly in its distribution.

Today I want to tell a short story.

I was recently a fly on the wall as I listened to my wife explain to my daughter, Maya what it will take for us to get back to “normal” in the TCI. She put the idea of 80% of the population being vaccinated into practical terms and highlighted that as a mother there are a lot of fears that she doesn’t have to take on that parents in the early 20th century or even as recently as 40 years ago had to take on.

One hundred years ago prior to MMR vaccines i.e. (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) there were millions of deaths of children yearly, and in 1918 about 5% of the world’s population was killed due to the Spanish flu Pandemic. We don’t have to worry about diseases like Polio because our children are vaccinated and in the rare occasion when they are not, the majority of the population has been vaccinated, which keeps them safe.

Just for a bit of context Mr. Speaker, I’m sure that the majority of us in this chamber and throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands have had the MMR, Polio and other vaccines during our childhood. We all can recall vaccination day at our schools where nurses would come in from the hospital to give us our shot and we all have the little scar on our shoulders to prove it. 

Mr. Speaker, We have been kept safe from many diseases because our parents and our grandparents did what they needed to do. Although this strain of COVID-19 is new, vaccinations are not.

Research on flu vaccines were being conducted before COVID hit and its rapid engineering was made possible because the world came to a standstill. There has never been the amount of resources devoted to any other vaccine development in such a short period of time ever, and that’s why we have the vaccine.

The WHO tells us that next to clean water, nothing has a bigger impact on saving lives than vaccines. Vaccines use our body’s natural defenses to build resistance to specific infections and make our immune system stronger.

So Turks and Caicos Islanders and all that call these beautiful by nature islands their home, please get vaccinated.

I am overjoyed to be part of the government that brought such joys with a stimulus, but know that the only way we can really and truly stimulate our economy, get our kids back to regular learning full-time, live freely is by getting our population vaccinated.

Mr. Speaker, waiting and seeing will not get us there. Waiting and seeing will delay progress and put not only ourselves at risk, but all those we love and care about so deeply.

Thank you Mr. Speaker

Caribbean News

Vaccine Mandate hits like a HURRICANE; Cancellations crush September prospects

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#TurksandCaicos, September 9, 2021 – The Minister of Health is finding it difficult to believe that cancellations are as high as residents are claiming.  In a tone deaf presentation the minister pointed to visitor arrival numbers at the airport, the usual September slow down, hurricane hits and nefarious attempts at fearmongering as the basis for his lack of faith on the figures.

“What I am saying is that when you compare to where we usually were, to where we are now, and again we are still in COVID and we’re doing better, and I am also saying that (hey) safety first, and I’m also saying that cancellations happen. Because, usually around September 6 or 8 in the Turks and Caicos, we usually get a big hurricane. So if a hurricane hit the Turks and Caicos Islands right now – God forbid, knock on wood – they would have the same level of cancellations or more.  Now this was a decision, one is man-made, one is natural but it is the same result,” said Hon Jamell Robinson, TCI Minister of Health.

The minister was speaking at a Wednesday night press conference where among other things, he got on the defence about claims of cancellations and estimations on losses suffered due to a new travel entry requirement.  Visitors, over the age of 16, are now required to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, in order to be green-lighted for travel to the Turks and Caicos.  Cancellations are estimated to be in the tens of thousands inclusive of resorts, airlines, tours and excursions, boutique activities and concierge services.

The Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association reports 13,000 cancellations from September to mid-November for 12 of its largest member properties including the Hartling Group, Grace Bay Resorts and Beaches Turks and Caicos.  One member, said Stacy Cox, TCHTA Executive Director, reported 5k cancelled vacations.

Similar reports came from smaller business operators which suffered the trickle-down effect of the decision announced on August 12, for activation a mere three weeks later.

“It isn’t a case where anyone is discounting what may have happened in terms of their totality of their cancellations, yes, but it’s not as if them being in the business long term, they haven’t seen these types of scenarios where they have this level of passengers coming into the country because this is traditionally the time, most properties do their renovations,” Minister Robinson on Wednesday.

The minister’s comments were most suited to the larger tourism stakeholders and it demonstrated what the small and micro companies have been vocalizing since the announcement, which came on his debut as the new health minister; that he is out of touch with the wider marketplace and smaller operations.

“I have people cancelling and no one consulted the small businesses.  I have lost eight jobs between September and October; that’s $20,000 gone.  I have bills to pay, rent to pay and my landlord is not understanding that what happened is outside of my control.  No one engaged the small business person and I wish they had.”

A business owner in North Caicos offered that the activation of the new policy was so sudden that even “if guests who had bookings in September wanted to get vaccinated, they would hardly have had the opportunity to do so.  It was not thought out, it was just too sudden.”

Another entrepreneur offered the decision may have been more “appreciated if it were 90 days off.”

Several were infuriated that the consultation on the decision was so narrow; banks which “may have to extend me some late payment courtesies because I lost all of my villa reservations informed me they were not asked to consider negative repercussions for borrowers.  It was a big blow.”

The Minister said his visit to the airport on September 4, which was after the new vaccine mandate policy took effect, there were 1,274 passengers on Saturday.  The figure topped the best daily total in September 2019, when a slightly lesser 1,131 guests were recorded.

“The highest passenger arrivals for any day during September (2019) was 1131;so despite all the fearmongering, coming from certain quarters within the TCI, we are simply experiencing a pre-Covid slow season.  No more, no less.”

However, records reflect that from September 3- October 15, 2019, Beaches Resort, which accounts for 70 per cent of visitor arrivals, was closed therefore passengers were expectantly less in number.

This year, Beaches Resort is opened with no plans to shut for the season.

In fact, we found that in 2018, while Beaches Resort remained open, 12 other major properties including Gansevoort, Point Grace, Meridian Club and Ocean Clubs were closed.

In September 2017, Turks and Caicos was scarred and debilitated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and in 2020, the pandemic and a closed Beaches Resort plunged arrival numbers and helped the TCI sink into an economic depression.

These factors are very likely among the reasons the year 2021 was proving to truthfully be a banner year for many.

With keen interest in Turks and Caicos vacations, visitors were flocking to the destination in almost pre-pandemic fashion. Pent up demand, low infection numbers, high vaccine uptake, proximity to the U.S. and the natural allure of the islands was drawing a healthy number of tourists.  With that interest came more cases of Covid-19.

The PNP Administration, in its fortnightly Cabinet Meeting came to the controversial decision after reviewing a six week period where 68 percent of infections or 90 of 133 people with coronavirus were tourists.

Tourists, including vacation home owners in the Turks and Caicos would have to be fully vaccinated once over the age of 16; returning residents who were vaccinated needed to prove they were fully vaccinated prior to departure from the islands and returning residents who were unvaccinated, had to provide a negative PCR or Antigen test in order to get approve through the TCI Assured portal.

Additionally, these residents are now required to quarantine with their entire household for seven days, a test is required on day five of the return.

The Cabinet also agreed to shorten the time for negative tests, from five days to three days; this is mandatory for everyone except vaccinated returning residents.

“This actually provides us with some breathing room, to be able to get the cases down as well as reposition our brand because it is not as if we haven’t done it in the past,” explained Minister Robinson who added, the high vaccination rate and vaccine only tourist policy are great selling points which can increase interest in the destination.

Though pressured to do so, the Minister was reticent about fingering the entity or entities he believes is guilty of “fear mongering.”

There was no information from the Minister on what Government is doing to now track if there are new bookings as a result of the vaccine mandate.

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Bahamas News

Bahamas announces detected ‘Variants of Concern’ for Public Health

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#TheBahamas, September 9, 2021 – On Wednesday (September 8) the Ministry of Health received results from the FIOCRUZ Laboratory in Brazil that confirms the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

The National Reference Laboratory submitted ninety-eight (98) SARS-CoV-2 virus-positive samples to the FIOCRUZ Laboratory for genomic sequencing. The samples were collected between 6th May 2021, and 8th August, 2021, from individuals on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma and Bimini.

Genomic sequencing showed the following: Variants of Concern (VOC) Lineage Number of Recovered Sequences:

Alpha B.1.1.7                                                          39

Delta B.1.617.2 (including sub lineages AY*)     41

Gamma P.1                                                              1

There are 18 samples still going through the testing process.

The new sequencing results confirm that the Delta variant is the predominant variant in The Bahamas, followed by the Alpha and Gamma variants.

It is noteworthy to mention that the Alpha variant is more transmissible than the original COVID19 virus, and the Delta variant is known to be more transmissible than the Alpha variant. Consequently, all major health facilities in New Providence and Grand Bahama are experiencing increased numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths due to COVID-19. 2 The health care system of both the public and private sectors is now severely challenged and over-burdened, and as a result, non-COVID-19 cases requiring health care are at risk of not being able to access life-saving health care.

Given the predominance of these highly transmissible variants in the country, it is essential to seek medical care early and avoid home remedies that delay accessing medical care. Do not delay seeking medical help if you experience signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Contact your healthcare provider or nearest public health clinic for more information. Members of the public are strongly urged to avoid gatherings of groups of more than five people, remain physically distant – at least 6ft apart – from others, wear a mask at all times, and wash your hands regularly.

Additionally, we strongly encourage all citizens and residents of The Bahamas to be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccinations are proven to be safe. They are known to decrease the severity of illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, if infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and all its variants. To book an appointment visit vax.gov.bs or make a walk-up appointment.

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Health

Ministry of Health confirms a single case of Mu COVID-19 variant 

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#TurksandCaicos, September 9, 2021 – A single individual has been identified with the Mu variant in the TCI. This result was included in the last batch of results received from the Caribbean Public Health Agency for sequencing on 30th July 2021. At the time, the variant was listed among 8 other results received in which identified 4 cases of the delta variant. The individual has since recovered.
Viruses are known to mutate and result in variants which may have different characteristics.
The delta variant remains the dominant variant circulating in at least 170 countries since it was first identified in October 2020 and has rapidly spread and is highly transmissible. It may also be associated with more severe disease.
The mu variant or B.1.621, was added to the WHO’s list of variants “of interest” only last week and has mutations which may indicate that it can evade the immune protection provided by natural infection or vaccination. The mu variant was first detected in Colombia but has now been confirmed in over 39 countries. This variant is being closely monitored along with other variants of interest in order to determine whether it will be classified as a variant of concern along with the four main variants of concern which are the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants.
SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 variants, if considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, are raised for formal investigation. At this point they are designated Variant Under Investigation (VUI). Following a risk assessment, they may be designated Variant of Concern (VOC).
Vaccines remain critical to the overall response to the COVID19 pandemic and are still shown to be effective in reducing the risk of contracting COVID19 as well as preventing hospitalization and death including against the circulating variants.
The Ministry of Health reminds the general public of the importance in following public health advice including;
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Maintain physical distancing of 6 feet between persons
  • Wear face coverings in public settings (covering nose and mouth)
  • Avoid mass gatherings or crowds
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or use disposable tissues
  • Comply with public health measures
  •  Stay home where possible, especially if you are a member of the vulnerable group
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 which include; cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath, fever, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell-please stay home and contact the Health Hotlines on 232 9444 or 333 0911
  • Do not visit health care facilities if you have symptoms or signs of COVID-19, call the Health Hotlines for guidance unless your symptoms are severe
  • If you are under quarantine by the Public Health Team, please remain at home and comply with the guidance provided to you.
  •  If you are contacted by the Public Health Team as a part of contact tracing activities, please provide all of the information requested to assist them in their investigations
  • Get tested-visit your community testing sites for free testing offered by the Ministry of Health
  • Stay informed with the latest information from the Ministry of Health by visiting our website on https://www.gov.tc/moh/coronavirus/

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