Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis revealed yesterday that six people were allowed to disembark in The Bahamas after the closure of the borders in March.
This figure does not include the six Bahamian permanent residents who were previously revealed to have disembarked on New Providence last month.
In a national address, Minnis said, “This afternoon, in response to the questions which have arisen, I wish to advise that over the emergency period a total of six other persons, comprised of two Bahamian citizens, one permanent resident and three work permit holders — being skilled technicians contracted to conduct specialized emergency work for utility services — were permitted to enter The Bahamas.
“I am also advised that all these individuals were screened by health officials and were placed under self-quarantine. One of those Bahamians was permitted to exit the country and to re-enter The Bahamas after medical care over the course of a 24-hour period.
“This individual was administered a COVID-19 test upon re-entry and was placed under self-quarantine. The second Bahamian obtained the COVID-19 test prior to entry and was also placed under self-quarantine.”
The prime minister said the permanent resident, who was permitted entry, had obtained a COVID-19 test prior to arrival and was placed under self-quarantine.
He said three work permit holders were allowed to enter The Bahamas for “emergency and essential purposes”.
“Two of these individuals were needed to service BPL (Bahamas Power and Light) generators here on New Providence,” Minnis said.
“These individuals were placed under self-quarantine, which was the policy at the time of their arrival.
“The other work permit holder was an engineer required on a private island. He obtained the COVID-19 test prior to arrival in The Bahamas and was also placed under self-quarantine.”
On April 30, The Nassau Guardian revealed that several Americans had disembarked in The Bahamas the day before despite the closure of the border.
The revelation was met with widespread public criticism as hundreds of Bahamians, who remained trapped abroad at the time, were being denied entry to The Bahamas.
Following the revelation, then Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said an exception was made for the permanent residents, who brought in 2,500 swabs for COVID-19 testing.
He said he made the decision to allow them to disembark.
“The decisions were made on the spot,” Sands told reporters at the time.
“I take full responsibility for it. If we had to do it again, perhaps we may have done a few things slightly different.”
Three days later, while publicly addressing the incident, the prime minister said protocol was breached.
Sands resigned as minister of health the following day.
Yesterday, Minnis outlined the procedure for returning to The Bahamas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Responsibility for approving all incoming air traffic and the entry at any airport of any individuals traveling to The Bahamas from another country, by commercial and private aircraft, has now been consolidated in the Civil Aviation Authority in the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation,” he said.
“There can be no doubt or confusion, going forward, about which government agency now has the sole right to approve any incoming flights and all air traffic within The Bahamas.”
His comments came as some individuals questioned Sands’ ability to grant approval for individuals to disembark during this time.
Minnis also reiterated the protocol for Bahamians and residents returning to The Bahamas during the pandemic.
“All Bahamians seeking to return home must first register at a Bahamas embassy or consulate, and, secondly, must obtain a COVID-19 molecular swab test with a negative result prior to being granted permission,” he said.
“Where a Bahamian seeking to return cannot obtain the molecular swab test, the nearest Bahamian embassy or consulate will assist with finding a lab to conduct that test.
“Upon returning home, if necessary in the view of health professionals, the test may be repeated by the Ministry of Health who will conduct the evaluation and screening of all arriving passengers.
“No other persons or residents may be approved to travel to The Bahamas without first obtaining a COVID-19 molecular swab test with a negative result.”
So far, 183 Bahamians and residents have been brought back to The Bahamas, according to the prime minister.