Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced yesterday the government is eyeing July 1 for the resumption of commercial flights to The Bahamas.
“As of now, we are looking at a possible opening date for commercial travel on or before July 1st of this year,” said Minnis in a nationally televised address.
“These dates may change depending on the circumstances. I want to repeat, however, that this date is not final. It will be adjusted if we see a deterioration in the COVID-19 infection trends or if we determine that the protocols and procedures are not in place sufficiently to warrant an opening.
“Our opening will depend on your cooperation.”
The Bahamian borders were closed on March 27, signaling a dramatic halt to the nation’s tourism industry.
A week earlier, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar warned that in the foreseeable future, there will be no tourists.
In late March, major hotels as well as smaller properties closed, sending thousands of Bahamians home in the face of widespread uncertainty triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A week ago, the prime minister indicated that unemployment is expected to soar beyond 30 percent as 25,000 people have either been laid off or have lost income as a result of COVID-19 shutting down major sectors of the economy.
The Bahamas has recorded 96 cases of COVID-19 and remains in a state of emergency with a 24-hour curfew and weekend lockdowns.
Minnis’ announcement served as an important signal to many in the tourism industry and in other industries who are looking forward to the full opening of the national economy.
Atlantis Paradise Island, the largest private employer in The Bahamas, has already advised its thousands of workers who have been temporarily laid off that it intends to have a phased opening beginning next month.
During the emergency period, the prime minister has also prohibited inter-island travel.
He announced yesterday that the government is about to begin a gradual re-opening in this area as well.
“The Ministry of Health has developed a policy and protocol for the approval and monitoring of individuals traveling to islands that have resumed normal commercial activity,” Minnis said.
He said individuals from Family Islands that have already been cleared — Mayaguana, Long Island, Abaco, Andros, Rum Cay, Ragged Island, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Cat Island — who are trapped on New Providence or Grand Bahama may travel home after going through the outlined process.
The protocol will require those individuals to register with the Ministry of Health by emailing email@example.com or calling 511.
Individuals will also be required to submit to an evaluation by a ministry-authorized physician.
“This evaluation will include a risk assessment via a questionnaire to determine the individual’s level of risk for COVID-19 infection plus or minus a physical exam to determine the presence of any symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” the prime minister said.
“If deemed low-risk and the physical exam does not reveal any symptoms, it is expected that the person will be issued a COVID-19 Authorization Travel Card that will allow individuals to travel to the Family Islands.
“If the individual is deemed a higher risk or has symptoms that may be consistent with COVID-19, the individual will be referred for testing to definitively determine their COVID-19 status.
“However, the healthcare provider may still decide that a person who is low-risk may need to be tested for COVID-19. Individuals traveling on behalf of their workplace will be subjected to similar requirements. To facilitate these arrangements, the Ministry of Health is collaborating closely with the Civil Aviation Authority.”
Minnis said that policies and procedures were developed to enhance communication between the two organizations for decisions regarding who can travel and where they can travel in the Family Islands or Grand Bahama.
He said individuals will be allowed to apply for inter-island travel as of Wednesday.
“Once cleared for travel, each traveler must present the COVID-19 Travel Authorization Card to the relevant ticket agent,” Minnis said.
“The card grants approval from the Ministry of Health for inter-island travel. Each person must also present a government-issued ID. Residents of the cleared Family Islands may travel between those islands by plane or boat. Allow me to repeat: residents in the listed islands that I’ve mentioned earlier can travel between those islands without receiving a COVID card by plane or boat.
“For example, a resident of Long Island may travel to Cat Island or any other island included on the list. These residents may travel without a COVID-19 Travel Authorization Card. Those on the Family Islands cleared for commercial activity may also travel to New Providence and Grand Bahama.
“But in order to return to their respective islands, they must complete the procedures and processes outlined earlier.”