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 that 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 change our lifestyles exponentially. This has not been easy,” he said.
Sadly, he said 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 percent.
“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 percent of our entire GDP (gross domestic product) and 65 percent 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 surviving 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 that even though the talks now are 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 several airlines, JetBlue, Air Canada, and more recently, American Airlines, have been bringing in travelers, 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 supporting 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 travelers. 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 traveler was still in the country at that time. As you can imagine, the logistics and complexities of rolling out any 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. Travelers 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 before arrival, have their temperature checked at the airport. Any other screening deemed necessary by the Public Health Officials and proceed to their final destinations in The Bahamas.”
He said as there will no longer be any requirement to quarantine, there will be no requirement to enroll in the Hubcap Monitoring System nor go through the time-consuming process of downloading that app.
D’Aguilar said the Ministry of Tourism has been working with our airline, hotel, and other tourism partners to strike a balance between heeding the advice of the health professionals to protect the health and wellbeing of the country and developing protocols that make The Bahamas a more desirable destination for travelers in the era of COVID.
“Whilst the policies themselves may have changed, the overarching mandate – to promote the health and safety of both Bahamians and visitors – has not,” D’Aguilar said, noting that. In contrast, past efforts to reopen have been constrained by strict but requirements. This new process is more comprehensive, methodical, and more accommodating towards the shared vision of a healthy, safe reopening of the tourism industry.
“These new, streamlined entry protocols will additionally simplify traveling for both visitors and residents. As of November 1, all persons entering The Bahamas must still obtain a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken no more than five days before the date of arrival.
“Children ten years and under, as well as pilots and crew of commercial airlines who remain overnight in The Bahamas, continue to be exempted from this requirement.”
He also said that as of November 1, travelers would be required to pay an application fee for their Travel Health Visa.
“Additionally, as of November 14, all visitors to The Bahamas will be required to purchase COVID-19 health insurance before they come to The Bahamas. The cost of this mandatory health insurance will be automatically included in the total cost of the Health Visa.”
D’Aguilar said that the inclusion of the travel health insurance ensures that any visitor who may test positive for the coronavirus while on vacation in The Bahamas or become ill from the virus while in The Bahamas will not suddenly become a burden on an already overburdened Bahamian public health system.
“This insurance is not intended for Bahamians, as they will be returning home and we expect them to avail themselves of our local health care providers and our local medical facilities in the usual manner,” he said, adding, “I am pleased, therefore, to say that no visitor who tests positive will pose a strain on our own health care facilities.
“The influx of arriving passengers will not jeopardize the availability of health resources, hospital beds, or COVID-19 testing capabilities for any Bahamian.”