The Bahamas government has removed the mandatory 14 day quarantine allowing visitors to the Caribbean country to stay at hotels, go to beaches, “to enjoy some of our world famous excursions and activities and, most importantly, to abide by our health and safety protocols”.
Tourism and Aviation Minister, Dionisio D’Aguilar said the new regulation came into effect on Sunday and as a result, the Emergency Orders will be revised to reflect that change.
He said when the Bahamas closed its borders in March to protect against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic “never did we imagine that seven months later the impact of the virus would remain so severe.
“As a country, we have encountered much hardship from this deadly coronavirus. We have made many sacrifices, have faced huge financial hardship, endured ever increasing emotional and mental stress, have juggled roles and responsibilities, both personally and professionally, and have had to exponentially change our lifestyles. This has not been easy,” he said.
He said, sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on global tourism, adding that the latest data from the World Tourism Organization showed that international tourism is down a whopping 70 per cent.
“Put another way, if we used to get 7.2 million tourists a year, as we did just last year in 2019, the best we can expect right now is 2.2 million tourists a year – a reduction of a staggering five million tourists, assuming we all do our part to prevent, diminish and stop further community spread of this deadly virus by wearing our masks, social distancing and not congregating in groups, both large and small.”
D’Aguilar said what’s more, the World Travel & Tourism Council just released new research indicating that 174 million travel & tourism jobs could be lost in 2020 if global travel restrictions remain in place.
“Here in The Bahamas, we are seeing and living this data first hand. Tourism is the heart of our economy and accounts for 50 per cent of our entire GDP (gross domestic product) and 65 per cent of our employment. We must safely reopen and restart our tourism sector so that we, as a nation, can begin to recover.
“I firmly believe that together, and with the support and participation from every single member of our community, we can move the needle from, survive to thrive. We’ve proven before that we can do this when faced with unthinkable circumstances, such as this pandemic. I have every confidence that we can do it once again. But it takes all of us! Every single one of us doing our part.”
D’Aguilar said even though the talks now is about a reopening, the facts on the ground are that The Bahamas has been open to international travel for many months now.
“Persons have always been free to leave The Bahamas without any restrictions, and a number of airlines, JetBlue, Air Canada, and more recently, American Airlines, have been bringing in travellers, mostly returning residents and citizens, using an extremely reduced schedule,” D’Aguilar said, adding that late last month, the Ministry of Tourism started the process of contemplating how to jump start the tourism sector, given the near total shut down of the sector since mid-March.
“This process was driven by necessity. With government revenues down by hundreds of millions of dollars, with tens of thousands of Bahamians out of work and suffering the indignity of not being able to support themselves and their families through employment in the tourism sector, the status quo is simply unacceptable.
“And that status quo is the mandatory 14-day quarantine which made our destination extremely unattractive to prospective travellers. As you can imagine, nobody wants to vacation in a destination where you are restricted to a single hotel for your entire stay unless that hotel has significant facilities or is all inclusive, allowing you to vacation in place.”
D’Aguilar said to remove the mandatory 14-day quarantine, the Ministry of Tourism engaged in lengthy consultations with the Ministry of Health.
“At first, we contemplated replacing the mandatory 14-day quarantine with a series of tests, namely, a Rapid Antigen test on arrival and a Rapid Antigen test five days after arrival, if the traveller was still in country at that time. As you can imagine, the logistics and complexities of rolling out any type of testing in a country with as many islands and, as a consequence, as many ports of entry as we have in The Bahamas, is no small undertaking.”
He said as the Ministry of Tourism fleshed out that idea, of testing at the border and began to roll it out with the huge support of the various stakeholders including the Immigration Department, the use of Rapid Antigen Tests as an effective screening tool at the border was not supported by the available research or, was not supported by the science.
“As a result, effective November 1, 2020, there will be no tests conducted on arrival. Travellers will enter The Bahamas, as they have always done, with their Bahamas Health Travel Visa and their accompanying PCR test, conducted within five (5) days prior to arrival, have their temperature checked at the airport and any other screening deemed necessary by the Public Health Officials and proceed to their final destinations in The Bahamas.”