It was pleasing to hear the plan for the large-scale reopening of the tourism sector for The Bahamas at yesterday’s press conference held by the Ministry of Tourism.
However, we note that there remain a few glaring holes in said plan that were not filled when the minister responded to questions by the press.
It was encouraging to understand that the ministry has been working on a detailed strategy, including research, canvassing stakeholders, establishing a marketing plan and thinking through what the ministry believes is the best way to open safely.
But there are areas of concern.
The government is requiring visitors to possess a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR molecular test, the so-called gold standard of tests, that is no more than five days old, to enter the country.
This is fine as a practical measure in order to allow the visitors to “vacation in place” at hotel properties.
The minister claims the hotel properties would be a “tourism-safe bubble”.
But we do not understand how this bubble would hold when hotel properties are not required, but rather “encouraged”, to test the thousands of employees who work in the hotel sector.
As evidenced by the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing data presented two press conferences ago, interactions with family were said to be the main means for COVID-19 exposure.
How, then, is it reasonable to assume that a safe bubble can be established and maintained if hotel workers will come to work without being tested, fraternize with hundreds of other workers who have not been tested, go home to their families every day, while possibly being exposed to asymptomatic carriers and go back to work the next day without being tested?
It is likely improbable to administer so many tests to so many workers on a sustained basis – even the rapid ones that are used to check visitors upon arrival in numerous other Caribbean countries.
However, at least establishing if there are asymptomatic carriers among staff on property would be a great start to ensuring the safety of the bubble for visitors and Bahamians.
It is hoped that properties will make this investment, despite the government’s laissez-faire approach to the issue.
Then there is the question of whether jet ski operators and other vendors who are a part of the Bahamian beach experience will be allowed on the beaches.
And if so, how will the bubble be maintained when those vendors, if the logic of the hotel workers applies, will not be required to be tested?
Will the properties be allowed to accommodate Bahamians who wish to access the popular facilities?
Would such a move, which the minister suggested has not yet been worked out, further compromise these bubbles?
We are also concerned that the bubbles will further isolate the thousands of workers and businesses that are not on hotel properties, but whose livelihoods are dependent on the those who stay there.
Without cruise ships set to return to the Port of Nassau possibly until the beginning of 2021, and tourists “vacationing in place” on properties, taxi operators, land and sea tours and excursions, souvenir sellers, those who work at straw markets and the many restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments outside hotel properties are likely to continue to suffer.
Though the minister said attractions, tours and excursions are expected to resume November 1, there has apparently not been much thought given to how some of the operators outside the hotel properties will provide services to those who are supposed to be vacationing in place, without bursting the bubbles.
Perhaps, some sort of health certification system to allow these operators to offer their services to the visitors without bringing them into close interaction with the rest of the public should be explored.
We have often lamented here that more robust public education on the safety protocols the public should practice should be in place.
We share Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar’s concern that if Bahamians do not do their part, our tourism industry would experience further trauma from another shut down.
Bahamians must act with circumspection and responsibility as the economy reopens further.
We must act as if our very lives depend on the success of the reopening.
As for many thousands of Bahamians, in a physical and an economic sense, they indeed do.