Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield said yesterday the government has secured 50 seats on a British Airways flight to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) to repatriate Bahamian citizens and residents stuck in the United Kingdom (UK).
The flight is scheduled for Thursday.
“What is happening is the seats were made available, and those students who had return tickets or whose parents were able to assist are paying for their seats,” Henfield told The Nassau Guardian.
“The flight for Bahamasair (from TCI) is hopefully going to be the same way. Of course, if we have one or two persons who can’t assist themselves on the Bahamasair flight, we look at these things separately and individually. But, we’re happy that parents are able to cooperate to get their kids home.”
Yesterday, High Commissioner of The Bahamas to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Ellison Greenslade told The Guardian that his office sent out an email to Bahamian citizens and residents in the UK and Europe alerting them to the flight.
“The charter, which will transit the Turks and Caicos Islands, is scheduled to depart London Heathrow Airport from terminal five on Thursday, June 11, 2020 at 8 a.m. and will arrive in TCI at 2:15 p.m.
“Upon arrival in the Turks and Caicos Islands, all Bahamian citizens and residents will transfer to a Bahamasair jet for the final leg of the journey to New Providence.
“The Bahamas High Commission is very pleased with the response to date and we are optimistic that in the next three days, the majority of Bahamian citizens and residents who are listed on our repatriation spreadsheet will have confirmed their seats on the charter…”
The Bahamas closed its borders to non-citizens and citizens in late March as part of its measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The government organized return flights out of Florida for Bahamians stuck in the United States.
Commercial flights are not operating from Europe to The Bahamas as the Bahamian border remains closed to international commercial flights. Some citizens and residents stuck in the UK have said it is too expensive for them to charter a flight to The Bahamas, while others have said they feel forgotten by the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 65 Bahamian citizens and residents have been awaiting repatriation from the UK during the pandemic.
Henfield said yesterday the government never forgot about those stuck in the UK.
“We’ve always tried to remain in close contact with our citizens wherever they are in the world,” he said.
“We were watching for an opportunity that could be used to get them home, an opportunity that would be beneficial to them and to the country… It’s very difficult economically for The Bahamas government to fund flights from all over the world.
“So, we’re just pleased that we had this opportunity. We’re very happy that they’re going to be able to finally get home and reconcile with their families.”
Last month, Greenslade told The Guardian his office was unsuccessful in locating COVID-19 testing facilities for Bahamian citizens and residents stuck in the UK.
Henfield said yesterday the government has put “contingencies” in place to handle the returning citizens and residents.
Asked what those contingencies were, the minister replied, “I prefer [the Ministry of] Health to speak to that. I don’t know exactly how they’re going to go through that protocol.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Delon Brennen said the matter was “still being discussed as I understood it”.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that citizens and residents returning to The Bahamas will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival.
He said they will still be required to test negative for COVID-19 before returning.