Back in business

After being forced to stay home for months as the world continues to grapple with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Joanna Baboun, a native of Mexico, said she couldn’t wait to pack a bag for herself and her two daughters and catch the first connecting flight through Florida to The Bahamas yesterday.

She was one of dozens on the first international commercial flight that landed at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, since borders closed in mid-March.

“We’re going to be here for a few days only,” Baboun told reporters outside the International Arrivals Terminal at LPIA yesterday.

“We couldn’t wait to come see your beautiful beaches. We know that we are safe. We all got tested before we got on the plane and all the measurements are so very comfortable. We’ve been tested many times because we wanted to know that we were safe.”

Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) had estimated nearly 600 passengers were due to arrive into LPIA from abroad yesterday for the first day of reopening.

As they landed, passengers had their temperature checked and had to answer questions from nurses, according to Blade Garrow from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was in town to spend time with his wife and children.

“We had to get our temperature checked and talk to some nurses and go through immigration as usual,” he said. “But I can’t wait to get in the water. I’ll probably swim a little bit and play some beach volleyball, if we’re allowed to.”

Tourists and locals arriving in The Bahamas between July 1 and July 7 must present negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test results no more than 10 days old.

After July 7, visitors will need a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test taken no later than seven days prior to the day of arrival, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said.

When he spoke on Sunday, Minnis said The Bahamas is reopening with “careful deliberation”.

“Like other jurisdictions that acted early, our task is to reopen with as minimal risk as possible, though risk cannot be eliminated because this epidemic is still raging around the world,” he said.

The prime minister added, “We are reopening because we must carefully balance the health, economic and social needs of our people in order to secure our country in the medium and long-term. We have to reopen to get more Bahamians back to work and to get businesses and the economy back to work.”

Ft. Lauderdale native Jim Schwartzll said the process, for him, was a breeze.

“They wouldn’t let you in without it,” Schwartzll said.

“It was pretty easy. You go to a clinic or someplace like that and they’ll test you, you submit the paperwork to The Bahamas to the website and they instantaneously give you a health card and you’re good to go.”

Jaime Galindo, a senior citizen, said he had no issue providing proof of his negative COVID-19 test, but said he’s concerned about his hometown of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and that many of the younger people there don’t appear to take the virus seriously.

“It’s everywhere,” Galindo said.

“These young people are not listening. They’re the ones who are getting sick. They’re just not listening.”

Asked whether he’s fine with having to wear a mask or face a fine of $200 while in The Bahamas, Galindo said, “It’s okay. You wear the mask, you space yourself, you have no problem.”

Jane, of New Jersey, already had her dream vacation in The Bahamas planned prior to the closure of The Bahamas’ borders, and said when she heard of the requirements to travel, she had no choice but to hop on the first flight in.

“We had it scheduled, so we just wanted to have a good time and be here,” she said.

“The requirements, like the COVID-19 test, were painless and super simple. This is my first vacation in a while and I think it’s well-deserved. We’re not able to stay at Atlantis, but we’re staying at another hotel on Paradise Island.”

Outside the International Arrivals Terminal, taxi drivers were lined off in their designated area for the first time in months, as they waited for passengers to walk out.

Beryl Rolle said while things were a bit rough, having to only spend on bills and groceries, she and her fellow taxi drivers were eager to get back to work.

“We’re excited and we’re prepared,” she said.

“We’re social distancing. We have all the sanitizers and everything in our cars to try and keep us as well as our guests safe.”

While visiting, guests will have to follow the same curfew put in place for locals, as well as wear a mask while out in public.

Tourism, the economic engine of The Bahamas, came to a standstill because of the novel coronavirus.

Shortly after the original state of emergency was declared in March, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said “life as we know it will be fundamentally uprooted for the next 30, 60, 90 days”.

Boaters, yachters and private pilots were the first to travel to The Bahamas on June 15, after the government moved to relax many of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Fifty percent of The Bahamas’ GDP is derived from tourism, the prime minister has said, which employs directly and indirectly up to 60 percent of the working population.

Hotels and vacations rentals, which were closed during the state of emergency, were permitted to reopen yesterday. Taxis and private and public bus services were also allowed to resume operations.

However, excursions and tours, vendors including straw vendors and jet ski operators will not be allowed to resume work until mid to late July.

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