Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism Chester Cooper said yesterday that the government is not in the position to end the international travel health visa yet.
While in opposition, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) vowed to end the travel health visa for Bahamians.
Not long after taking office last month, it eliminated the domestic travel health visa and waived the cost for the international travel health visa for Bahamians.
When asked yesterday for a timeline for the full elimination of the program, Cooper said, “We are not yet at a point where we are minded to eliminate the international element of the travel visa. We are monitoring it in a responsible way to determine the timeline of doing so. We have some very exciting initiatives in terms of digitizing.
“There is the question of whether the landing card is going to continue or whether that is going to be replaced with some digital means. So we’re looking at all the possibilities at the moment.”
He said data indicates that many individuals who travel to The Bahamas test positive on the fifth-day rapid antigen test.
Cooper said that “a large percentage” of those individuals are Bahamians.
“We want to continue the effective controls that the travel health visa system helps us to bring in terms of managing the instances of positive cases coming to our country,” he said.
“So, until we have a mechanism to do that contact tracing and the follow-up testing smoothly, we’re going to continue with the travel health visa on the international side, but it will continue to be free for Bahamians.”
The Bahamas has been in a state of emergency since it confirmed its first COVID-19 case in March 2020.
The state of emergency, which was declared by the governor general, empowered the prime minister as competent authority to impose restrictions like curfews and lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.
A months-long border closure was among the restrictions imposed by former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis last year.
The travel health visa was launched in November 2020, following the official reopening of The Bahamas’ tourism sector.
In June, then leader of the opposition Philip Brave Davis called the travel health visa “a burdensome, unnecessary tax on Bahamians at a time of widespread economic pain”.