Nearly three weeks after the country reopened to international commercial travel, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday the spike in COVID-19 cases is “domestic grown” and suggested the government could have implemented stricter measures for Bahamians traveling abroad.
“Maybe in hindsight we were not strict enough on Bahamians going in and out of the country,” D’Aguilar told reporters outside Government House.
He added, “From the evidence that I have right now in front of me, I have no known cases by foreign visitors coming into the country. They were all following the protocols, getting the COVID-19 tests, we were screening them before they came. So, I think that was working well.”
Since borders fully reopened on July 1, there have been 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas. Fifty-one of the new cases were on Grand Bahama, another two cases were Inagua residents who were said to be on New Providence, and the remainder of the cases were New Providence residents.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a ban on commercial flights and vessels traveling from all countries excluding the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada in an effort to minimize the risk from countries like the United States where COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket.
According to D’Aguilar, the decision wasn’t made based on visitors, but travel by locals.
“Unfortunately, citizenry took advantage of their increased ability to travel and you will see that all of the cases are really domestic grown,” D’Aguilar said.
“The foreign visitors, to date, have seemingly not impacted us. Unfortunately, you could not create two separate economies. You could not create two sets of rules. So, of course, the rules must apply to all and in our attempt to get our citizenry, or the number of cases in Grand Bahama back under control, the prime minister felt compelled to do what he had to do.
“But I don’t think anyone has shown me any evidence that it was because of foreign visitors coming into the country that we had a growth in cases.”
For a fifth consecutive day, Florida, a hotspot for Bahamian travelers, yesterday reported more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases and pushed its statewide death toll to over 5,000.
Bahamasair has ceased all outgoing flights to the United States.
The government’s travel ban was met with mixed reaction by some Americans on social media with some angered by the decision.
D’Aguilar noted that Americans in some instances can still travel to The Bahamas.
“The Bahamas is open to the United States,” he said. “You just cannot come by commercial aircraft. You can come here by private aircraft or by pleasure boat.”
As for the travel ban’s effect on the country’s tourism industry, D’Aguilar said, “It doesn’t take a genius to known that this is going to be significantly impactful.”
He said, “We have to rethink our strategy as it relates to not only visitors, but our own citizenry moving in and out of the country.”
D’Aguilar was also asked if the government anticipates any backlash from the United Stats given the government’s decision.
“I don’t anticipate any pushback from the United States,” he said. “I think they see what we did and why we did it. And once the numbers from Grand Bahama settle, they will understand why we did what we did.”
The tourism minister said with no flights coming from Europe and only one flight per week from Canada, The Bahamas needs to “fix” its interaction with the US through protocols for Bahamians traveling to and from, as well as visitors.
Last week, D’Aguilar told The Nassau Guardian that “one or two” visitors slipped into the country without proper COVID-19 testing.
In his national address, Minnis noted that since July 1 the situation has “deteriorated at an exponential rate”.
While international commercial travel must cease by tomorrow, domestic travel will be allowed to continue, but this is not the case for Grand Bahama.
Individuals traveling domestically are still required to complete an electronic health visa prior to departure.