Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday announced a ban on commercial flights and vessels traveling from all countries, excluding the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada, saying that his government cannot “risk the death of Bahamians and our residents”.
The announcement followed the confirmation of 15 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest daily number of cases in The Bahamas since the start of the pandemic.
After experiencing a weeks-long lull in cases, the country recorded 49 new cases since July 8. Fourteen of those cases had a history of travel.
In a national address, the prime minister said, “The series of measures to address the current increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases are as follows: international commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union. This will come into effect as of Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at midnight.
“Bahamasair will cease outgoing flights to the United States of America, effective immediately. Let me repeat: Bahamasair will cease immediately outgoing flights to the United States of America.
“To accommodate visitors scheduled to leave after Wednesday, July 22, 2020, outgoing commercial flights will be permitted. Private international flights and charters for Bahamians, residents and visitors will also be permitted.
“Pleasure craft and yachts will likewise be permitted. All returning residents, Bahamians and visitors by air or by sea from overseas will require an RT-PCR COVID-19 negative test result from an accredited lab.
“You will be required to present your documents to immigration officials upon arrival. These tests must be taken no later than 10 days before the date of travel. All of these individuals must also have an approved health visa to enter our country.”
Returning Bahamian citizens and residents, who are not in possession of a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test result from an accredited lab, will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in The Bahamas.
They will be monitored via the Hubbcat Monitoring App.
“For travelers who do not agree to Hubbcat monitoring or whose premises are not approved by the Ministry of Health for quarantine, they must quarantine at a government-identified facility at their own expense,” Minnis said.
“At the end of the quarantine period via Hubbcat or at the facility, COVID-19 testing will be required also at the traveler’s expense. The government will not be responsible for arrangements with private employers.
“The quarantine period will be counted as vacation for public servants. If vacation time is not an option, the public servant’s salary will be deducted.”
Minnis said the government is aware that students returning to or starting college or university studies overseas will be affected by the cessation of international flights.
He said the matter will be addressed in “a subsequent communication by government officials”.
“While every family must make their own decision on students studying overseas, parents and students may wish to consider the resumption of studies beginning in January 2021,” Minnis said.
The Bahamas fully reopened its borders to visitors on July 1, after more than three months.
The prime minister noted that the situation has “deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders”.
“We must be resolved in our collective willingness to save lives,” he said.
“So, today, I am announcing a number of measures we are reinstating to address the number of new cases we are seeing here at home. My government has consulted heavily with health officials. We are taking these strong actions to save lives.
“I understand the frustration and the disappointment of many Bahamians and residents that may ensue as we reimplement certain restrictions. But, as a country, as a country, we have to do what is right and we have to do what is necessary.
“If we do not take these measures now, we will pay a higher and deadlier price at a later date.”
Minnis said domestic travel will be allowed to continue.
Individuals traveling domestically are still required to complete an electronic health visa prior to departure.
Public and private beaches on New Providence, Paradise Island, Rose Island, Athol Island and surrounding cays will be closed until further notice as of today at 5 a.m.
Restaurants at Arawak Cay and Potter’s Cay will also be required to close as of today.
“These closures will remain in place until we are able to ensure that better social distancing can be practiced and enforced,” he said.
“The public health team will monitor the epidemiological situation in New Providence as it relates to the number of daily COVID-19 cases over the following 72 hours. I must tell you, if cases continue to spike and increase, my government is prepared to implement more restrictive measures.
“This is not our wish. But, if it has to be done, it will be done.
“We will continue to be guided by the recommendations of our health professionals.”
He also announced a number of restrictions for Grand Bahama, which recorded 31 of the 49 cases since July 8.
Among them, international and domestic borders will be closed to all incoming and outgoing flights and sea vessels to and from Grand Bahama, except for emergencies and to transport essential services and goods, effective midnight on Wednesday.
The prime minister also announced a series of COVID-related offenses.
It will be an offense for an individual to submit a falsified result of a COVID-19 diagnostic test or to undergo the test prior to his or her departure from The Bahamas and present the results of the test on his return to The Bahamas as though the test had been carried out in another jurisdiction. This offense will carry fines not exceeding $2,000, two years in prison or both.
It will also be an offense for an individual, who knowingly had COVID-19, to expose or infect another individual. That individual will face a fine not exceeding $1,000 for each individual who is exposed to or infected with the virus.
Airlines or sea vessels will face a $500 fine for each passenger who boards without a mask or approved travel health card from the Ministry of Health.
Individuals who leave mandatory or self-quarantine before being released by the Ministry of Health will be liable to a fine of $250.