Testing protocols not fully worked out

The government is still working out issues surrounding the decision to reopen the country’s borders to people who test negative for COVID-19, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.

In particular, he said, it is still unclear how people traveling from The Bahamas to another country for short business or medical trips will be handled under the new policy.

“The government is working through that right now, trying to address those issues,” he said.

“Obviously, if I’m going to Florida for the day for medical reasons or I need to make a two-day trip…when I go over there, I can’t get the test in time to come back. So the government is trying to address those issues and in very short order, the health directorate will come out with guidelines on that.”

D’Aguilar said tourists seeking to enter the country will have to apply online and upload copies of their COVID-19 test results. He said some tests will be evaluated through the online system, and some will be checked at the border.

“We’re going to devise a system where persons apply online to enter the country,” he said.

“They will give us the information about where they’re coming from, where they’re going to in The Bahamas, so that if a hot spot develops, the Ministry of Health can easily conduct its contact tracing.

“When they apply online, they’ll have to upload a copy of their COVID-19 test. Either it will be reviewed prior to their arrival, or if it isn’t reviewed, when they present themselves to the border, it will be reviewed at that time to make sure that it is the correct test within the correct period. And then the persons will be admitted into the country.”

He added, “If it has been checked online, because we don’t want to duplicate the process, they will get a confirmation saying that they are cleared to enter right away.

“If it hasn’t been checked, they will get conditional approval. The condition will be that it will be checked at the border to make sure that they are cleared to enter.

“We don’t want to cause any unnecessary backup either checking online or at the border. So, we’re trying to split the review process between checking online and checking at the border to facilitate as many people as possible that wish to come into the jurisdiction.”

D’Aguilar said anyone who arrives at the border without a negative test would be denied entry.

“I can’t believe that anybody would be so silly as to go to a country with a positive test,” he said.

“If they do arrive, they will be turned around and deported.”

He added, “I presume that if they are a foreign visitor, they have a return ticket. But whatever it takes for them to be deported, they will be deported, or denied entry I think is the correct term.”

The July 1 reopening of the borders to tourists comes more than three months after they were closed in an effort to contain COVID-19.

In his contribution to the budget debate on Wednesday, D’Aguilar announced that everyone entering the country, even after the reopening, will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test.

This came weeks after Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis noted that tests would not be required to travel to The Bahamas as of July 1.

D’Aguilar cited recent upticks in cases of COVID-19 in the United States as the rationale behind the new testing stipulation.

He said yesterday that he knows the policy change will negatively impact the arrival numbers.

“Absolutely [it will],” he said.

“It will probably deter some people from coming to the jurisdiction, but that’s the balance you have to play.

“On the one hand, you can open up the country and allow as many persons as you want into the country and run the risk of making your people sick and having a spike in cases, or you can have some sort of testing in place to mitigate the possibility of that risk.

“It is very important for the Bahamian people to know we can’t eliminate the risk. We can only mitigate the risk. We have the tests. They have to wear masks. They have to social distance, wash their hands. All these things we’re promoting in order to mitigate the risk, but it won’t eliminate it.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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