NASSAU, Bahamas – The Bahamas government says it is looking at the possibility of allowing commercial travel into the archipelago on or before July 1, but insisted that the date was not final and would depend on the current state of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.
The Bahamas has so far recorded 96 positive cases of the virus that was fist detected in China last December and linked to the deaths of more than 300,000 people and the infection of 4.5 million others globally.
The Bahamas has recorded 11 deaths but over the past four days, the chain of islands has not recorded any new case of the virus.
In a radio and television broadcast on Sunday night, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said that as the country continues to make progress in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus, it would act on the advice of health officials “on the phased and gradual reopening of various islands and certain areas of our economy, as well as a new normal for daily life that will be with us for some time.
“We must abide by regional and global health protocols as we reopen our economy and society,” he said, reiterating “if advised by health officials, we will return to certain phases or re-impose certain restrictions in order to limit community spread.
“I fully understand the anxiety and frustration of many Bahamians and residents to reopen our economy. But we must act with prudence and good judgement. We have to balance the health, economic and social needs of citizens and residents.
“As you know, we are still in Phase 1B of the national reopening plan, but we have started to introduce components of Phase 2 as the country fully transitions into the second phase of the plan,” he said, adding that as of Monday, at Island, Long Island, Abaco and Andros will now be able to resume commercial activity.
“Let me reemphasize to all of the Family Islands that are able to resume commercial activity that weekday curfews and weekend lockdown measures still remain in place, as do physical distancing measures and the requirement to wear masks.”
Minnis said that the Bahamas is “eager to see our economy open up fully to travel for Bahamians and to welcome visitors back to our shores”.
He said his administration “is well advanced in our planning for the beginning of the re-opening of our tourism sector and to allow for travel in and out of the Bahamas.
“Our resorts, our airports and our seaports are finalizing the health and safety protocols 10 that will be necessary for us to provide for a re-opening. Taking into account what is being done within the region and around the world, these extensive guidelines will be designed to provide for reasonable assurance that travel and leisure are generally safe. Any such re-opening to commercial scale traffic will also be dependent on the ongoing stabilization of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Bahamas.
“As of now, we are looking at a possible opening date for commercial travel on or before July 1st. These dates may change depending on the circumstances. I want to repeat however that this date is not final,” Minnis said, adding “it will be adjusted if we see a deterioration in the COVID-19 infection trends or if we determine that the protocols and procedures are not in place sufficiently to warrant an opening. Our opening will depend on your cooperation”.
He said that the government is also about to begin a gradual re-opening of inter-island travel and that the Ministry of Health has developed a policy and protocol for the approval and monitoring of individuals traveling to islands that have resumed normal commercial activity.
Minnis said that individuals may start applying from Wednesday and once cleared for travel, each traveller must present the COVID-19 Travel 22 Authorization Card to the relevant ticket agent.
He said that the repatriation of Bahamians from overseas will resume this week and that the system has been streamlined in order to avoid what happened during the last exercise, when a passenger who had a COVID-19 positive result overseas was allowed to board a return flight home.
“Subsequent testing by the Ministry of Health following the passengers arrival has shown this individual is now COVID-19 negative,” Minnis said, adding that two repatriation exercises are scheduled for this coming week from Fort Lauderdale in the United States into New Providence.
He said passengers will be required to present the COVID-19 negative test result to a Bahamasair agent before being allowed to board the aircraft.
In his broadcast, Minnis also said that the country, which is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian last September, is taking steps to deal with the upcoming hurricane season that begins on June 1.
“To facilitate hurricane preparedness, home and hardware stores will now be allowed to operate in-store hours on Mondays, 8.00 am to 8.00 pm (local time). This is in addition to the Wednesday and Friday in-store hours that home and hardware stores are currently allowed to operate,” Minnis added.