Weeks after the country’s borders were closed in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government is slated to begin bringing home Bahamians who have been trapped abroad, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced yesterday.
The ministry said 190 Bahamians and residents, who tested negative for COVID-19, are in the first group.
This comes amid controversy that heightened in the last week over the landing of permanent residents on private aircraft.
The arrival of a group of six on April 29 led to the resignation of Dr. Duane Sands as minister of health, over what the prime minister termed a breach of protocol regulating the return of Bahamians and permanent residents.
But there are others who also came in on private flights.
Yesterday, Lyford Cay resident Betsy Dingman was quoted in an Eyewitness News story as saying she came in on a private plane last week after she “filed the right papers and got the right protocol”.
Meanwhile, a Bahamian family that has been seeking permission from the prime minister to have loved ones return on a private charter claim they are still awaiting a response after writing to him last week.
The government has faced heavy criticisms over its decision to close the borders to Bahamians.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that the group being flown home tomorrow is part of an initial phase of its return home program.
“In this first phase, Bahamasair will be used to bring to New Providence and Grand Bahama 190 persons who have tested negative for COVID-19 and have agreed to adhere to the strict regime determined by the Ministry of Health,” the ministry said.
“Government facilities will be provided for quarantine, when that determination is made by the Ministry of Health.
“Though these persons would have been tested negative for COVID-19, protocols have been put in place to ensure that anti-COVID-19 spreading measures are practiced while they proceed to their eventual destinations.
“Plans are in place to execute the first phase of this strategy this Friday, 8th May, 2020.
“Bahamian citizens and residents in jurisdictions outside of South Florida should be reminded that the repatriation exercises will be done in a phased and orderly manner, depending on registration data received from the embassies and consulates abroad.
“Going forward, the ministry will create a new web page on the current MOFA website that will support the online repatriation registration process.”
The statement noted, “The ministry, through its embassies and consulates, has registered hundreds [of] Bahamians and residents outside the country globally.”
The government’s decision to close the borders in mid-March in response to COVID-19 left many citizens and residents stranded in countries across the world.
For weeks, many pleaded with the government to be allowed to re-enter the country and quarantine.
Only recently did the government announce that Bahamians who wish to return home would be allowed to do so, but only if they were to test negative for COVID-19.
The prime minister said in Parliament last week that those returning would also have to quarantine in a government facility upon arrival.
On Sunday, amidst the controversy over the special permission for the group of permanent residents, Minnis announced that Bahamian citizens and residents returning now have the option to quarantine at home.
While the flights from South Florida will be flying Bahamians and residents to New Providence and Grand Bahama, Bahamians from other islands who are also stuck abroad are appealing to the prime minister to allow them to fly home directly.
One Bahamian with cancer who has been in Florida since August 30 for medical reasons, for instance, has asked the prime minister to approve a private flight so she can finally return to her island and quarantine at home.