Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the government is planning to reopen for international tourism by late October or early November.
“From the Ministry of Finance’s perspective, we have always said that we are looking at a late October to November opening,” he said.
“And that’s kind of where our budget forecast puts us. So, we’ll see. Hopefully, we are able to meet that date.”
Asked about concerns that the reopening will result in a new surge in COVID-19 cases, as the country’s first reopening in July did, Turnquest insisted that tourists were not the problem.
Prior to the July 1 reopening of the borders, there were 104 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in The Bahamas. Since July 8, nearly 1,700 cases were recorded in the country, in what health officials have called the second wave of infections.
While the government required tourists to test negative for COVID-19 within a 10-day window of traveling, Bahamians going on short international trips, of no more than 72 hours, were not required to test, but to instead quarantine upon arriving back in the country.
“Less than one percent of those new infections came from foreigners,” Turnquest said.
“They were primarily domestic cases or persons who traveled and brought back the virus. So, we can put into place strategies to quarantine or mitigate the risk that tourists provide. But it is us that we have to be concerned about.
“Obviously, we don’t want to have a situation where foreigners can come and go and Bahamians can’t come and go. So, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we are again disciplined about all of the protocols and have a heightened awareness as we travel, because we know, for instance, Florida is a hotspot.
“So, the tourists aren’t necessarily the issue. It’s us.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced the relaxation of a number of restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He said based on positive trends, health officials no longer recommended a “hard lockdown” of New Providence.
However, the announcement came as cases continue to surge.
Turnquest said yesterday that the government is hoping to get the domestic economy going again. He said domestic borders will likely not open for inter-island travel for another few weeks.
“Hopefully as we open up, we’ll get the domestic economy starting to go again,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will not have any cause to have to go back into a curfew situation or lockdown situation.
“That will allow some domestic activity to happen, people to go back to work. It’s still going to be a few weeks, I imagine, before we open the borders even for domestic travel, much less for international travel.”
Asked if the government is considering a reduction in value-added tax to help local businesses, Turnquest said it’s not feasible at this time, noting that the government has to collect revenue.
“At the moment, no,” he said.
“The reality is that we are not receiving much revenue at all. Meanwhile, the government has to run on.
“The incentives and assistance that we’ve given to businesses as well as individuals have to be paid for.
“And so those businesses that are operating, that have been able to operate during this period, we’re counting on them. We need them, unfortunately. And so, I don’t see that at the moment. Obviously, as we go forward, we make decisions, but at the moment, I don’t see that as an option.”