Since The Bahamas fully reopened its borders to visitors on July 1, “one or two” visitors “slipped in” without proper COVID-19 testing, prompting adjustments in the travel protocol, according to Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar.
However, D’Aguilar said nearly 100 visitors were stopped and deported upon landing at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) because of wrong or outdated COVID-19 tests.
“We initially started with a different approach and we noticed that one or two people were slipping in,” he said yesterday.
“So, now, we’ve tightened it up and we are confident that at least every single test is now going to be screened before someone is given approval to enter into the country.”
Tourists and locals are required to present negative results for a COVID-19 PCR molecular swab test no older than 10 days for entry into the country. Locals who leave The Bahamas for less than 72 hours are not required to show proof of testing.
According to D’Aguilar, changes had to be made after authorities discovered that some were making it into the country without meeting all the requirements for the travel health visa.
When pressed on how this could have happened, the minister explained, “When we started off the review process, we used a particular methodology that wasn’t as robust as the one that we’re using now, which is that every single person is now screened prior to entering the country.
“So, as you can imagine, on the first of July, we had to develop the technology, we had to ramp up the screening process, we had to build the technology. All of this is coming to fruition now where we feel that we have a protocol in place that will ensure that every visitor is being screened prior to arrival.”
D’Aguilar added, “You’re dealing with thousands of people and as with everything, there are going to be one or two errors. But we feel now that we have closed that gap.
“We were in a learning stage the first four or five days of July, but we have now adjusted our protocols to ensure that doesn’t happen. You know, COVID is a very fluid situation and there are going to be instances when you adopt one approach and you don’t find that to be appropriate, you’re going to adjust. The important thing is to identify the issue and solve the problem by adjusting.”
Over the Independence holiday weekend, three tourists were recorded on camera suggesting that they gained entry into The Bahamas without having the required COVID-19 PCR molecular swab test. They indicated that they had an antigen test.
The video was widely shared on social media, raising questions about the integrity of the travel visa system.
D’Aguilar said while he was not familiar with that incident, he does know if the visitors had indicated they had antigen tests, their applications would have been flagged.
“I know that when you apply and you indicate that you have an antibody test or an antigen test, you instantly get a red, which means you are denied entry into the country,” he said.
“Now, if you fail to disclose that, the second line of defense is that your test is now screened to ensure that you have the PCR test and not an antibody test and not an antigen test.”
The application for the Bahamas Travel Health Visa is done online.
Referring to visitors who were turned away upon landing, the tourism minister said, “Last week, we had close to 100 persons who were denied entry and deported.
“So, if they (visitors) were found to have the incorrect test or their test was considered to be invalid, they were denied entry into the country. So, that was another reason why we felt it was necessary to screen all of the tests prior to persons showing up at the border, because as you could imagine, that created a lot of unhappy people and not positive public relations for the destination.
“But we have corrected that now and we feel that that number should diminish significantly as we move forward.”
D’Aguilar was asked why visitors were granted the travel health visa if their tests were deemed invalid.
“When you applied and you said you were traveling on a particular date and when we looked at the visa we said that’s within the 10 days, but you decided to come later, then your COVID-19 test became invalid,” he said. “In that instance, we turn you back and send you home.”
Most visitors to The Bahamas come from North America.
The United States has recorded more than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases, with Florida emerging as the new epicenter. The state reported 15,300 new cases on Sunday, the highest single-day total in any U.S. state.
D’Aguilar says issues with travel visa system have been corrected