Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that the Ministry of Tourism is recommending that all hotel staff be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work and on an as-needed basis afterwards.
During a press conference on the state of tourism in The Bahamas, the minister said the government is eyeing the reopening of the tourism sector by November.
He said this level of testing is to ensure a “tourism-safe bubble” at hotels, which will be designated quarantine facilities for tourists to stay during their mandated 14-day quarantine, or “vacation in place”.
“Given that visitors to a hotel will have been tested prior to their arrival, it only makes sense that the staff is tested also to maintain the requisite environment to safely vacation in place,” he said.
“As such, after consultation with public health, the competent authority and the hotel industry, the Ministry of Tourism is strongly recommending/actively encouraging that all hotel staff be tested prior to their resuming work and on an as-needed basis thereafter.”
D’Aguilar said the employers are expected to fund the testing.
“I would think that it would be in the best interest of the business to test staff as regularly as you see fit,” he said.
“So, the government isn’t taking on that liability. Actually, the hotels were the ones who came to us and said they want to do this.”
He added, “We’re hoping that the businesses take on this task.
“And it’s in their best interest. They want a healthy workforce and want to ensure that the employees showing up to work are COVID-free in order to interact with their customers.”
He said the tests do not have to be RT-PCR tests, but can be other tests approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and shown to be nearly as accurate.
“Now, I recognize that testing all of a hotel’s staff, using the PCR test, can be extremely costly – over $200 per person,” he said.
“So, public health officials see no problem with hotel properties, and any other businesses for that matter, using, if they wish, far less expensive CDC-approved tests, that have proven accuracy levels that are in striking range of the PCR gold standard test.
“These tests will be used for primary screening and the PCR test will be used for secondary screening if the need arises.
“We are pleased that the public health officials have agreed that some form of testing, other than PCR testing, can be used for this purpose. In fact, they have indicated that they view this as another layer of protection for our workers, together with the wearing of face masks and other PPE’s that will be obligatory.
“Our goal is to ultimately promote the health and safety of all hotel staff through this robust, holistic approach. To be clear, however, these non-PCR tests will not be included in any COVID-19 statistics released by the Ministry of Health and should only be used as a primary screening technique.”
D’Aguilar said members of the general public will not be allowed to enter hotels without a negative COVID-19 test, also in an effort to keep the premises as safe as possible.
He noted that this had been an issue during the last attempted reopening of the economy, during which there were reports of parties at some hotels where Bahamians were staying.
“This became a bit of an issue in July,” he said.
“And what we want to say is that if you want to go into a hotel, or if you want to use a hotel, you should have received a test.
“It makes no sense if everyone coming from overseas has had a test and then you come in domestically and you don’t have a test. But we would encourage businesses to allow Bahamians to use some of their facilities.
“So, if I want to use a restaurant, maybe I can use the outdoor portion of the restaurant at a particular hotel.
“This is a tightrope that we’re trying to walk, how best to accommodate the domestic market while opening ourselves to our very important international market. And, obviously, our advice would be to get everybody tested that comes into your facility because I think it bodes well for your business.
“But I think it’s going to be a difficult road to walk.”