Seven people were granted permission to return to The Bahamas from Jamaica without being tested for COVID-19, according to a letter signed by Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) Director General Captain Charles Beneby.
In the letter, which was dated May 14, 2020, Beneby wrote, “This is to confirm that BCAA grants approval for the transport of seven Bahamian persons wishing to repatriate from Kingston, Jamaica, to Nassau, The Bahamas, on 18th May, 2020.
“It is understood that the persons in question may not be in possession of a valid PCR COVID-19 molecular swab test and as such, it is understood that said test will be administered by Ministry of Health officials upon arrival in Nassau.”
While Beneby’s letter to Paul Aranha, president of Trans Island Airways, names the seven as Bahamians, the manifest lists one of the passengers as a Jamaican who was born in Kingston.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen said yesterday the individuals are being quarantined at a government facility.
Asked whether they were tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to The Bahamas, Brennen told The Nassau Guardian, “No, they’re going to be in quarantine for 14 days. And, therefore, because they’re being quarantined and being watched for symptoms, we have the period to monitor whether they develop symptoms or not.”
He said they would be tested if they develop symptoms consistent with the virus.
The people who came in are ages 31, 34, 40, 50, 52 and two are 28.
They were unable to access testing while in Jamaica, according to Brennen.
He said it isn’t unusual for citizens and residents, who cannot access testing abroad, to be allowed to return, noting that those individuals are usually required to quarantine.
Speaking to The Guardian, Aranha, who conducted the flight, said, “From the beginning, the prime minister stated that citizens who could not obtain a COVID-19 test would be able to enter the country and be administered one at home.
“Working through with the Ministry of Health, one of the passengers’ mother was able to get the approval and we had permission to enter from the Ministry of Health coordinated with The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority.”
Upon arrival, all the passengers were separated in the terminal and screened by officials from the Ministry of Health and Department of Immigration, according to Aranha.
“They all got processed,” he said.
“It took quite a bit of time. Ministry of Health took their temperature and ran through a bunch of screening questions and then they were all quarantined. Everyone was very pleasant and accommodating.”
The country’s borders were closed on March 27 as the government sought to contain the spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
The prime minister faced criticisms over his decision to close the borders to Bahamian citizens and residents, and eventually allowed the first group to return on May 8.
Two more return flights are scheduled for this week — one tomorrow and another on Saturday. The Bahamasair flights are coming from Fort Lauderdale to New Providence.
The stated government policy is that those individuals will have to undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning home. They will also be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Originally, the policy mandated that those returning home quarantine at a facility selected by the government, which is guarded by defense force officers.
After controversy erupted over the landing of six permanent residents on a private airplane on New Providence on April 29, the prime minister said Bahamian citizens and residents now have the option to quarantine at home.
The permanent residents in question were allowed to quarantine at home after they brought in 2,500 swabs for COVID-19 testing.