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Symonette says Bahamas should consider testing visitors during stay

St. Anne’s MP Brent Symonette said yesterday The Bahamas should consider adopting a system where visitors are tested at least twice following their arrival.

“I take a test in New York,” said Symonette, who served as minister of tourism in the Ingraham administration.

“It’s good for five days. I fly down here. Let’s say I’m a Bahamian. I’m healthy when I land here. Why do I need to go into quarantine? Theoretically, if I’ve picked it up somewhere along the line, you could’ve picked it up somewhere if you’re in Nassau as well. 

“I think in Bermuda they test you on the third day and the [seventh] day. They test you on arrival, the third day and the [seventh] so we can do something like that.”

In July, Bermuda had a policy that required that adult visitors be tested upon arrival as well as on days three, seven and 14 of their stay.

The policy has subsequently been replaced with a policy that requires that residents and visitors undergo RT-PCR COVID-19 testing at the airport and quarantine at home or in a room  where they are staying until their results are ready. 

The various tourism associations on New Providence could assist with testing if the government were to implement a policy similar to the one that Bermuda had, according to Symonette.

“For instance, you could have the Cable Beach tourism association buy or acquire the tests and the Paradise Island association acquire the tests so that testing can be done in their respective resorts,” Symonette said.

“Then, you would have contact tracing… It’ll be difficult, but it won’t be impossible.”

Last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government will present a plan “very soon” to remove both domestic and international quarantine related to travel.

Data

Former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that he would like to see the data that “undergirds” that decision.

“We have to be making decisions that are data driven, right?” he asked.

“Why make this decision? Do we have information that suggests that there is no longer a need? Or don’t we? Because if we don’t, then it’s difficult to say that is a sound or prudent decision.

“So, again, on what basis is this policy decision being made? If it is sound data to support it, I would be happy to look at it. If the data is strong, then certainly I’ll support it. If it either doesn’t exist or is not sound, then we have to ask the question: on what basis are we proceeding?”  

Symonette said the government is faced with a balancing act.

“I think we have to move toward removing the quarantine,” he said.

“I don’t think you’ll find the big tourist resorts will open with the liability there (with the mandatory quarantine for tourists in place) and certainly with the emergency orders in place.”

The Bahamas’ tourism industry has been stagnant for more than six months.

Thousands of tourism workers have been furloughed as a result.

Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar told The Nassau Guardian that the current system of requiring tourists to quarantine for 14 days is “not conducive for tourism”.

“If you want to remain competitive as a tourism sector, you have to develop a system in place that doesn’t require quarantining but gives the health officials sufficient comfort that you are ensuring that you don’t have community spread from persons who are crossing the border,” he said.

“If you are, as a number of jurisdictions are, doing away with quarantine, you have to replace it with something that provides your public health officials with the sufficient comfort that, ‘Yes, okay, we’re not doing this but we’re doing this in lieu of that and I have sufficient comfort.’

“So, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to work that out, how we roll that out. If you’re in the marketplace and you’re saying to everybody that you have a 14 day quarantine, then that’s dead on arrival.”

He said the government plans to roll out its new quarantine policy “sometime this week”. 

The Ministry of Tourism has targeted October 15 as a date for hotels to be fully operational and beaches fully open, but major resorts have said they will not be opening next month.  

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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