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Bahamians return from Cuba

Vivian Whylly, 58, touched down on New Providence yesterday for the first time in nearly four months.

Whylly was among a group of Bahamians and residents who returned from Cuba on a Bahamasair repatriation flight.

He had been in Cuba seeking medical attention when both the Bahamian and Cuban borders closed in March, and when he suffered a heart attack while abroad.

“I was in and out of Princess Margaret Hospital in January and February earlier this year and they couldn’t seem to find a remedy,” he said.

“So, I went to Cuba. And while I was in Cuba recovering from a heart attack which happened on the sixth of March, Cuba got locked down. Nassau closed down and then Cuba closed down.”

Whylly said he was already running low on money by the time the borders closed, claiming his medical bills were three times what he normally pays.

“I spent $4,000 in two weeks because I had to go in intensive care,” he said.

As a result, he said he considered it a “plus” that the government stepped in to render assistance.

“The Bahamas Embassy in Cuba stepped up to the plate,” Whylly said.

“They said, ‘Mr. Whylly, we’ve been advised by the government that we have to bring all of our Bahamians into a government-regulated hotel.’

“I said, ‘But I don’t have no money to pay.’

“So they said, ‘Well the government has decided, through a memo from [the Ministry of] Foreign Affairs, that we will pay what you all need in terms of accommodations and food. But anything extra…you’ll have to cover.’”

Whylly recounted being accommodated in two different hotels, both of which followed strict health protocols, right up until the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-arranged repatriation flight.

The flight was originally scheduled for Wednesday, June 10, of which the ministry issued a statement saying “some 19 Bahamian nationals and residents who were stranded in Cuba are set to return”.

“As the Cuban border is still closed, the government of The Bahamas wishes to express its appreciation to the government of Cuba for permitting this relief flight access to allow these nationals and residents to return home,” it said.

That flight ended up being postponed until yesterday, due to technical problems, but Whylly was grateful that the ministry arranged accommodations for the passengers.

On the other hand, he said he was very concerned upon arriving back home.

Whylly claimed that upon arriving at the airport, no immigration officers and no health officials were there to meet the passengers.

As a result, he claimed, half of the passengers simply got their baggage, went through customs and left before two nurses arrived to assess those who remained.

“This is the first time I’ve walked from the plane straight through the baggage claim,” Whylly said.

“What happened? What happened to The Bahamas? I’ve just come out of the strictest place in the world for medical stuff, and I walked in.

“I was like, ‘These people don’t know what’s upon them, the pandemic going on in the world, hey? Where [are] they headed?’”

A Ministry of Health official claimed yesterday, however, that it already has the contacts for all passengers through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all of whom tested negative for COVID-19, and that they are all being monitored as per the current protocol.

But Whylly, who already tested negative for the virus before leaving Cuba, said his priority is to find somewhere to safely quarantine.

“I’m saying to the government, don’t let down your guard because I feel like I’m walking into a situation that they don’t understand is a pandemic,” he said.

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