By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GIVEN the recent surge of COVID-19 cases in the country, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday banned all commercial flights and vessels from entering the country beginning on Wednesday with the exception of those coming from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Dr Minnis also announced the closure of all beaches in New Providence, Paradise Island, Rose Island, Athol Island and its surrounding cays, which will take effect today at 5am. He also ordered the closure of Arawak Cay and Potter’s Cay restaurants, effective today.
The revelation came after Dr Minnis revealed 15 new COVID-19 cases, marking the country’s highest single day increase to date since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
During a sombre national address yesterday, Dr Minnis linked the spike of cases to the re-opening of the country’s borders.
The Minnis administration resumed international commercial travel on July 1 in a move officials said would help jumpstart the country’s tourism industry.
Since then, the Bahamas has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases — 49 new cases after July 1 — with the total number now standing at 153.
“Regrettably, the situation here at home has already deteriorated since we began the reopening of our domestic economy,” Dr Minnis said. “It has deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders.
“…Fellow Bahamians and residents, as I have said before, our battle with COVID-19 will last for some time. We are in a marathon not a sprint. This is a marathon demanding discipline, endurance, demanding resilience and requiring determination.”
Noting that immediate measures must be taken to contain the COVID-19 threat, Dr Minnis yesterday reimposed a number of former restrictions, including a ban on commercial travel and the shutdown of certain restaurants.
Dr Minnis said the decisions were made after “heavy” consultation with health officials.
“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 the 22nd of July 2020 at midnight,” he said.
“Bahamasair will cease outgoing flights to the United States of America, effective immediately.”
Dr Minnis said all outgoing commercial flights will be allowed in an effort to accommodate visitors scheduled to leave the country after Wednesday.
He added: “Private international flights and charters for Bahamians, residents and visitors will be permitted. Pleasure craft and yachts will also be permitted.
“All returning Bahamians, residents and visitors by air or sea from overseas will require a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 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 ten days before the date of travel. All of these individuals must also have an approved health visa to enter the country. “
However, he said residents unable to produce a negative accredited COVID-19 test upon arrival will be required to self-isolate for 14 days and will also be monitored via the Hubbcat monitoring.
“For travellers 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,” he noted.
“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.”
He said 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.
Meanwhile, Dr Minnis said that domestic travel will continue, with the exception of Grand Bahama. He reminded that domestic travellers must also complete an electronic health visa prior to departure at travel.gov.bs.
“Any airline or commercial sea vessel that permits a passenger to board without the required health visa will face a fine of $500 per passenger who is not in compliance,” he warned.
Dr Minnis said Arawak Cay, Potter’s Cay and respective beach closures will “remain in place until we are able to ensure that better social distancing can be practiced and enforced.”
Last night, Bahamasair announced it will provide one daily relief flight, starting today until Wednesday, to accommodate Bahamians, residents and people with valid work permits who need to return home. More information can be found on the airline’s website.