WITH the country on course to start to reopen next week, when will the borders fully reopen?
Don’t hold your breath – for if Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest is to be believed, that moment is weeks away, if not months.
“It’s still going to be a few weeks, I imagine,” he said, “before we open the borders even for domestic travel, much less for international travel.”
While Mr Turnquest would not give a definite date, Tourism Parliamentary Secretary Travis Robinson suggested late October would see the first phase of reopening, with early November seeing international travellers being encouraged to return to The Bahamas.
This is our second go around at this, of course, with the first reopening ending, so we are told, in a rush of Bahamians travelling to hotspots and returning with the virus. According to the government, cases spread as a result of tourism are minimal, and not one visitor has been recorded as a case in the daily figures so far, while Mr Turnquest says “less than one percent of those new infections came from foreigners”.
Part of that reopening tangled up in international agreements, however, when flights from the US were cut off. For whatever reason, that prompted a rethink to level the playing field for all countries – but is that really a level field?
If someone is coming from a country with next to zero cases, should they really be considered on the same level as someone coming from a country that is a hotspot? Or should we not just look at the passport that a person carries, but a health passport? Already, we have rules about arriving with a recent negative COVID-19 test, but if we know they are coming from a country where the virus is under control, can we not be more flexible towards those visitors? Essentially, what is wrong with setting a baseline for entering The Bahamas based on the number of new cases in the country they’re coming from? Can we move to reopen at the pace of the best-performing countries and not at the pace of the worst? For that is what happens if we treat all countries the same and base our response on how the one lagging along at the back might be doing. Once a country reaches a certain threshold, it too can be added to the approved list.
We also need to address how our own population deals with the borders reopening. People have many reasons they need to go overseas – from studies and exams to medical examinations and more. To cast blame on frivolous trips doesn’t take into consideration people who needed to go. We need to be better at managing those trips – at ensuring quarantines take place as needed, and that those are enforced.
But if the opportunity is there – safely managed – to open our borders more, then we should push to be able to take it. The economy is on its knees – and it’s time to take a pace forward.
There's trouble ahead
No one wants to hear this right now, but there’s a bigger threat on the horizon for The Bahamas than COVID-19.
In the next 80 years, the country is at risk of losing 80 percent of its land mass.
That’s what the Rotary Club of Grand Bahama heard this week from T Oneil Johnson Jr, a young Bahamian whose future this is very much relevant for.
The risk, he tells us, is the rising sea level. By 2100, the sea level is projected to rise by a meter. That doesn’t sound much, does it? But 80 percent of The Bahamas is below that level.
Mind you, even before COVID-19 hit, this wasn’t something too many people wanted to pay attention to. Former Prime Minister Perry Christie repeatedly used to go overseas, warn of the “existential threat” facing The Bahamas then return home and little changed.
So when all this is over, and we remain hopeful and confident that this viral threat will be over one day, let’s not just pat ourselves on the back and go back to normal. Let’s actually do something about the next threat.