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Immigration beefs up LPIA screenings

Kiosks at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) have been disabled, and immigration officers are questioning all passengers coming through LPIA amid heightened awareness over COVID-19 which has not yet been reported in The Bahamas, authorities said yesterday.

Late last week, the government announced that non-residents who have been to Italy, Iran and South Korea in the past 20 days will be denied entry into The Bahamas. The same rule had already been in effect in relation to China for several weeks. Residents who have visited any of those countries in the past 20 days are supposed to be quarantined for two weeks.

However, some Bahamians have questioned the stringency at the borders, claiming that immigration officers only ask people if they have been to affected countries without performing any substantial checks to verify the information.

“We have disabled all kiosks at LPIA to avoid anyone slipping through our questioning and physical travel documents inspections, to avoid persons swiping through but failing to advise of their travel history,” said Director of Immigration Clarence Russell.

“We are aware that not only is mainland China on our refusal list, but [also] that Korea, Italy and Iran have joined our refusal listings. [This means] anyone who arrives at our shores/borders who would have visited any of the referred countries within a 20-day period is refused entry.

“And where they have no immediate return flights, [they] are handed over immediately to on-duty health experts at landing place for inspection, examination and/or quarantine — whichever they choose.

“We are challenged by the crowds but are ever cognizant of the fact that delays are necessary to ensure all efforts are made, to keep our borders safe.”

Yesterday CEO of Nassau Airport Development (NAD) Vernice Walkine told The Nassau Guardian that the increased traffic in the airport on the weekend was not necessarily the result of the screening process being taken by immigration officers, but increased travel in general.

Walkine said NAD has so far seen increased numbers as more people from North America opt to vacation closer to home where no COVID-19 cases have yet been reported.

She also noted that United Airlines inaugural flight from Denver boosted the numbers at the airport on Saturday.

“As an airport, as a destination, I think we are doing all the right things in dealing with the traffic in and out the airport as prudently as we can. Immigration is managing the process effectively. So far our numbers have not reduced but it’s still early,” she advised.

Speaking yesterday, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands encouraged the public to be the eyes and ears of the government as it relates to COVID-19.

“Every single Bahamian has to be involved in the protection of this country,” Sands said.

As of yesterday, there were over 105,000 cases of COVID-19 across the globe. Over 3,600 people have died with the majority of deaths in mainland China where the virus originated late last year.

In the U.S., there were at least 450 confirmed cases across 32 states and 21 deaths.

Hysteria

As hysteria over the potential impact of the virus spreads, sanitary products began to sell out in stores across New Providence.

One woman posted in the Facebook group, HeadKnowles, asking for advice on where to find the items.

“Does anyone know where I can get Lysol and hand sanitizer?” she asked.

“[I’ve] been all over.”

Paranoia in the country has been exacerbated by a number of false claims of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

A post from Bahamas Press that was shared widely yesterday claimed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported confirmed cases of the virus in The Bahamas. However, the CDC maintains that there are no confirmed cases in the country.

Sands expressed his frustration with the amount of false information circulating about the virus.

“That’s a sickening concept that Bahamians would be willing to post something that would threaten the lifeblood of our economy and the welfare and livelihood of ordinary Bahamians,” he said.

“That is sick. It is twisted, and it’s a shame and a disgrace that we continue to support by reading this drivel.”

Sands assured Bahamians that the government is doing all it can to minimize the impact of COVID-19.

“We continue to believe that aggressive efforts to minimize or eliminate the risk of importation is appropriate, but that we should also ensure that we build capacity locally to manage one or more cases of COVID-19. That means that on every island we have to ensure that our public health personnel, front-line border control officers, travel agents, airline personnel, police, etc. understand the role that they must play.

“And once everybody knows the role that they play, we believe that we can optimize The Bahamas’ response.”

Sands also reminded Bahamians that while the spread of the new coronavirus may be alarming, far more familiar viruses have caused far greater damage in the past few months.

“We understand the fear and we believe that education and information is the very best remedy for this,” he said.

“To keep this in perspective, since the beginning of the year, around the world we’ve talked about some 3,600 people, give or take, dying from coronavirus infection.

“But we also know that some 90,000 people have died from influenza.

“And some 300,000 have died from HIV.

“When you put it in that light, we can understand that the risk is relative. It is not going to quell the hysteria which has impacted the financial markets, the travel industry. It has led to hoarding and panic. We all simply need to be informed, and let us work together to optimize The Bahamas’ recovery from this uninvited, unexpected development in 2020.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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