Stricter rules for travel

Effective September 1, travelers seeking to enter The Bahamas must have a valid RT-PCR COVID-19 molecular diagnostic test for a period of five days from the date on which the test was taken.

The current requirement is for tests taken within the previous 10 days.

Pointing to the surge in cases that occurred after the country’s borders fully reopened on July 1, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said the “tightening up of regulations”, as reflected in the latest emergency order released yesterday, is necessary to present a third wave of the novel coronavirus.

“Obviously, the longer the period from the date the specimen is given to the date you present at the border, the greater inaccuracy of the test,” D’Aguilar said.

“So, we felt that obviously if you take the test right now, it tells you right now how you are, but going out 10 days was probably necessary to allow people to travel, but obviously the disadvantage of that is that the accuracy of the test diminishes the longer out you go. 

“We also believe that testing capacity, in those areas where it was difficult to get a test, has improved significantly, and so we felt that it should be relatively straightforward for people to provide a specimen, to get a test [result] and present to the border within five days. It should be easier to do that than it was two or three months ago.”

Previously, individuals leaving The Bahamas and returning within 72 hours did not need a COVID test. The government has said that that policy contributed to the second wave of the virus. That has been eliminated.

D’Aguilar also said yesterday, “In the past, we said that when you came home, if you came home without a test, you were supposed to go into a 14-day quarantine, but you could take a test on arrival at home and come out of the quarantine and we’ve eliminated that.”

All of these steps are intended to close any potential loopholes that allowed COVID-positive individuals to come to The Bahamas and contribute to community spread, the minister said.

Travelers — citizens, legal residents and visitors — must obtain a health visa from the government to enter the country, a requirement that has been in place ever since the competent authority reopened the borders. 

The 14-day quarantine is mandatory for all, although the competent authority may in writing exempt any person or class of persons whose arrival in The Bahamas is necessary to perform an essential service or is in the national interest.

D’Aguilar said the requirements outlined in the new order are important to help prevent a further explosion of cases.

“The government obviously has decided to give some life to the tourism sector because obviously if you have to have a mandatory 14-day quarantine, coupled with a health visa, all of these are impediments to travel, but they’re necessary impediments in order to prevent the importation of the coronavirus into The Bahamas,” D’Aguilar said.

“The government has deemed that hotels will be considered as places where you can quarantine. So, yes, if you’re a Bahamian or a visitor, you come to the country, you can quarantine in a home, once it has its own bedroom and bathroom; some people would go to an Airbnb-type product to do that; or persons can go to a hotel and quarantine in a hotel, not necessarily confined in a room, but to move through a hotel and take advantage of the facilities, but not to exit the hotel. And then, finally, you can quarantine on a yacht or a pleasure craft once you enter The Bahamas.”

As a condition of entry into The Bahamas, individuals must submit to monitoring by way of the HubbCat monitoring platform, by the Ministry of Health, members of the COVID-19 Enforcement Unit and by unscheduled visits from the police.

Citizens or legal residents who refuse to be monitored shall be required to submit to mandatory quarantine, at their own expense, at a government identified facility.

As it regards inter-island travel, prior to traveling, individuals must obtain a negative test result and upon arrival on the other island, submit to mandatory quarantine at a government identified facility or any other facility deemed appropriate by the Ministry of Health.

These provisions do not apply in respect of an emergency, as the operator of an aircraft or vessel transporting freight and passengers, and in regards to travel among certain islands: Chub Cay, Harbour Island, Long Cay, Long Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador and Spanish Wells.

The chief medical officer, or her designate, may exempt a person traveling from a Family Island to New Providence or Grand Bahama from having to comply with the testing requirement, but that person shall be required to submit to a mandatory quarantine at a government facility at his or her own expense.

The new order also states that every port in every Family Island shall be closed with the exception of any port of entry, which is a public dock.

Any person entering The Bahamas by sea must submit to COVID testing prior to arrival and must stop at the port of entry at the intended destination and deliver to the local authority a copy of his or her negative test and a valid health visa.

That individual must also quarantine on the vessel or other appropriate location for 14 days or for the duration of the stay, if that is a lesser period.

The new order also permits the director general of the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority to permit a private or commercial flight to come into the country, and permits the chairman of the Bahamas Maritime Authority to do the same as it relates to commercial vessels.

Any approval granted in this regard is in respect of an aircraft or vessel and is not an approval for entry of a person, the order states.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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