Pointing to recent surges of COVID-19 cases in U.S. states, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis last night charged that the government is not prepared to safely reopen the country’s borders to tourists on July 1.
Davis said the country may only receive a small number of visitors that could translate into a potentially large increase in risk and exposure of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
Some states in the United States, particularly Florida, have reported thousands of new COVID-19 cases in the last week.
The U.S. is The Bahamas’ primary tourism market with more than 1.2 million stopover visitors coming to Bahamian shores last year alone. Further, the government is not requiring tourists to have a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country.
Davis last night questioned whether The Bahamas is prepared for a possible surge in COVID cases when it reopens it borders on July 1 — after closing it in late-March in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The people of The Bahamas paid a very steep price in order to give the government the gift of time,” Davis said during his contribution to the 2020/2021 budget.
“Yet the government has not prepared to re-open safely. In many parts of the United States, including in nearby Florida, cases are surging, rather than diminishing. What will happen if visitors bring the virus inside our country?
“COVID can be spread by people without fever or other symptoms. It is easy to imagine how a visitor with the virus could transmit it to a hotel employee, who could then bring it home to their family.
“It could spread undetected in our communities for days before the first warning signs appear. What happens then?
“How many Bahamians would become sick? How many first responders put at risk? What would be the human toll? And what would that scenario mean for our reputation and economy?
“Mr. Speaker, I don’t see anything in this budget that acknowledges this possibility, let alone plans for it.
“I have been in favor of reopening – but in favor of doing it right. I want to know, in particular, what is this government planning to do in the next two weeks, ahead of July 1st, to increase our ability to test for the virus? The clock is ticking.
“It is the government’s responsibility to prevent us from facing the worst of all worlds. We may only receive a small number of visitors, so we may only benefit from only a small positive impact on our economy.
“This small benefit could then translate into a potentially large increase in risk and exposure to the virus.”
Davis is not the first parliamentarian to express concern over The Bahamas’ July 1 reopening date.
Former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said he supports the reopening of the Bahamian economy, but urged the government not to play Russian roulette by reopening the country’s borders without sufficient testing capacity.
“I do not support a policy of open borders to untested individuals, especially if most of these persons travel from those locales known to have a high prevalence of COVID-19, those that come legally from a high-incidence country,” he said.