While the COVID-19 emergency order requires people entering The Bahamas to undergo a rapid antigen test five days after arriving with a negative molecular RT-PCR test result, those tests are not being conducted on some Family Islands, nearly a month after the latest travel protocols came into effect, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar confirmed yesterday.
The Guardian was made aware that some travelers to Long Island were being granted waivers by Karen Seymour, executive director of the Industry Facilitation Division at the Ministry of Tourism.
When asked about the matter, D’Aguilar confirmed that waivers were being granted and testing is not being done on a number of islands.
“I don’t know exactly which islands, but I know there were a couple, for example, the more remote islands – Long Island, Cat Island, San Salvador, of course, MICAL, all those islands down there,” he said.
“It becomes a little bit more of a challenge to provide that.”
D’Aguilar confirmed that people have been entering those islands from abroad since November 1.
“Yes, they have been,” he said when asked.
Despite the gaps in testing, those travelers – many coming from countries where COVID-19 cases are surging – have not been subject to quarantine.
Under the latest travel rules, individuals entering The Bahamas are required to have a negative RT-PCR test within five days of travel and must take a rapid antigen test (RAT) on day five after arrival, if they are still in the country.
The testing is one of the only methods being used to monitor the potential import of COVID-19 cases, particularly on islands that have not had widespread outbreaks.
Those entering islands without testing are still required to fill out daily health surveys, in which they are expected to self-report any COVID-like symptoms.
D’Aguilar said the issue on these islands has been the lack of private facilities that can conduct testing.
“The construct that we were using to deal with the testing…was to use private sector entities to conduct the five-day rapid antigen tests. And that works well in most islands. However, there are a number of islands where there is no private-sector provider. So, there is no local doctor or local clinic that can provide that service. In those particular instances, we have to rely on the public health system to provide that rapid antigen test – so, the government clinics. So, that is a little bit more cumbersome, a little more difficult to roll out.
“…Just the public health administration needs some time to ramp up in order to absorb it. It’s not as agile and not as nimble as the private sector. So, they are aware and they are rolling it out.”
D’Aguilar said one of the hiccups on some islands has been the lack of people to administer tests.
“The public health administration is a little concerned about who can administer these tests,” he said.
“So, they don’t want me to get [someone] and simply train them to do it. They would prefer that there’s some sort of oversight by a doctor, healthcare provider or nurse, or someone who is trained. So, that…makes it somewhat more difficult, because some of us were of the view that this is not a difficult test to administer…and they had a different view.”
When contacted about the lack of antigen testing capability and waivers being given, Minister of Health Renward Wells said, “That’s not my understanding.”
He told The Guardian he would “investigate and revert.”
Wells did not revert yesterday.