As the country prepares to open its borders to commercial flights on July 1, former Health Minister Dr. Duane Minister warned the government against playing “Russian roulette” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that he does not support the decision to allow untested visitors to enter the country.
“Yes, we must reopen, but let me say it categorically, without a robust consistent ability to test, and definitely screen, isolate and track, if we take our eyes off the ball and lessen our vigilance, we can and we should expect a second wave of COVID-19 in The Bahamas,” he said as he contributed to the budget debate in the House of Assembly.
“If that happens, I dread even considering the potential economic peril…I do not support a policy of open borders to untested individuals, especially if most of these people travel from those locales that are known to have a high prevalence of COVID-19.
“Yes we need to restore our economy, but we should not, we cannot play Russian Roulette.”
There are approximately 3.29 million active COVID-19 cases worldwide. Several resorts across the country have announced that they will begin welcoming guests early next month.
Sands urged caution.
“Yes we should open, but we must do so deliberately, cautiously and carefully and we should do so with data,” he said.
“I do not support a policy that requires Bahamian citizens and residents to be tested that does not place the same level of scrutiny on visitors. If we test any, we test all and we must test.
Sands resigned last month after The Nassau Guardian reported that permanent residents — later revealed to be six people — were allowed to enter The Bahamas and isolate at home while the borders remained closed to Bahamian citizens.
A day before Sands’ resignation, the prime minister noted that protocol had been “breached” when the decision to allow the permanent residents to disembark was made.
Those permanent residents were not tested for COVID-19 ahead of their arrival.
During his budget contribution, Sands said the government has to move “heaven and earth” to build capacity as it relaxes COVID-19 restrictions.
He said The Bahamas has an opportunity to define the best practice scenario.
“Let us define the Bahamas as a COVID-safe destination,” he said.
“Let us do this better than anybody else. We must do it better.”
The former minister said data suggests that many prospective visitors are yearning for sun, sand and sea.
“We can’t leave this up to chance. Let us write the book on a COVID free destination.”
There have been 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas and 11 deaths.
The relatively low number of cases and deaths in the region are what tourism stakeholders believe will make the destination attractive to would-be travelers.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis closed the borders in March in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 locally.