Noting a recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday announced that the government will require all individuals, including tourists, to test negative for the new coronavirus before traveling to The Bahamas after July 1.
“Given the spike in the number of positive COVID-19 tests in the United States and the uncertainty surrounding just how many cases will require hospitalization, the government of The Bahamas has decided to maintain the current status quo until further notice,” D’Aguilar said while contributing to the 2020/2021 budget debate in the House of Assembly.
“What we mean by that, Mr. Speaker, is that the government of The Bahamas, which now requires a COVID-19 test to enter the country up to July 1, will also require a COVID-19 test after July 1.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen told The Nassau Guardian that individuals who do not test negative before traveling to The Bahamas, will not be allowed to enter, noting that immigration officials will not “land them”.
In late March, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis ordered the closure of the country’s borders to citizens and non-citizens in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. So far, there have been 104 confirmed cases and 11 deaths as a result of the virus.
Last month, the prime minister announced that the borders will reopen on July 1.
D’Aguilar subsequently told reporters that a COVID-19 test will not be required for travel to The Bahamas after that date.
Yesterday, the minister noted, “With the reopening of businesses in all 50 states and the protests that have been taking place in many of the major cities throughout the U.S., most states are now reporting spikes in the number of positive results from COVID-19 tests. This has put The Bahamas in an extremely difficult position.
“On the one hand, we need foreign visitors to return to our country to restart our economy. Foreign visitors from the United States — especially from Florida, Georgia and Texas and the northeast states of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and Massachusetts — form the bulk of our annual visitors. We need them to come to restart our tourism sector and put our people back to work.
“On the other hand, however, there are the legitimate health concerns that these very people that we need to restart our vital tourism sector and put our people back to work, could end up causing a spike in COVID-19 cases here in The Bahamas and undoing the excellent results that the Ministry of Health has achieved in keeping our death rate low.”
Twenty-two states reported increases in new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks.
The United States — which has seen more than two million cases — is The Bahamas’ primary tourism market with more than 1.2 million stopover visitors coming to Bahamian shores last year.
“When we made our initial decision, evidence supported the opening of the tourism sector without the test. We had the full support of the tourism sector for this decision. But things have changed,” D’Aguilar said.
“The situation has become unclear and ever-changing, so a prudent government must reassess and readjust all decisions related to this COVID-19 virus as the situation evolves on the ground; and that is what we are doing here today.
“But I wish to impress, once again, on the Bahamian people, the difficulty of the decisions that we have to make. Stay closed or make it difficult for the economy to reopen and we will continue to suffer economic hardship and high unemployment or open too quickly or too wide and face an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and possible fatalities.
“This is a hard situation to get right, Mr. Speaker, but we will do our endeavor best to walk that fine line to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 as best as we can, hopefully, with the full support and prayers of the Bahamian people.”
Other countries in the region are taking varied approaches to reopening.
The Jamaican government recently said that all arriving tourists will be tested.
St. Lucia and Haiti, meanwhile, are requiring visitors to present certified proof of a negative COVID-19 test beforehand.
Antigua and Barbuda, as part of strict health protocols, is providing rapid coronavirus tests upon entry.
The Dominican Republic, which was hard-hit by the coronavirus with more than 20,000 confirmed cases and over 500 deaths, has also announced strict protocols for visitors.
Aruba requires that visitors complete an embarkation-disembarkation card online before traveling and is encouraging them to take a COVID-19 PCR test before traveling.
In Barbados, the government plans to meet with social partners next week to discuss the issue of border closure and reopening.