By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The government last night expanded the 14-day mandatory COVID-19 quarantine to visitors arriving by boat and private plane in what was branded a “one size fits all” approach.
Attorney General Carl Bethel QC, in messaged replies to The Tribune, confirmed that the latest revision to The Bahamas’ border protocols means that all citizens, residents, homeowners and visitors must quarantine regardless of how they travel to this nation.
“All who enter by any means must quarantine for 14 days,” Mr Bethel confirmed. “And come in with a negative COVID-19 PCR test and health travel visa. One size fits all.” However, he then added that “exemption can be granted to diplomats or any person or class of persons”.
Explaining what this meant, he said: “We may have a delegation visiting from a country or organisation like the International Co-operation Review Group (ICRG) to complete our on-site visit” in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) process.
“They would only stay in the hotel, and would meet local regulators and stakeholders in circumstances where all protocols for mask wearing are in place. They, as a ‘class of persons’, could safely be exempted from quarantine,” the attorney general continued.
“The point is that there are circumstances where a class of persons, such as a business conference, may decide to hold it in The Bahamas. All they will do is come here, hold their conference in the hotel and go home. They could be exempted easily. But the hotel property as a whole could be considered to be a quarantine site with all distancing and mask-wearing protocols.”
Mr Bethel also said the Government had sought to ease the burden of quarantine by allowing visitors to spend their two-week isolation on their boat, or at a hotel or vacation rental unit. However, visitors will still have to take another COVID-19 PCR test at the end of the 14-day period.
“We have to strike the right balance. Absolute shutdown is not a feasible option,” he added. “We have to balance health and commerce in a way that obeys the precepts of health and wellness, but which also allows commerce and economic activity that is necessary to also sustain jobs, lives and prosperity.
“The new No.3 order is all about about attempting to strike the right balance in a non-discriminatory but medically safe manner. Bahamians have the same rights and privileges, obligations and liabilities, as visitors. No discrimination. No special treatment for anyone.”
Children under ten years-old will also be exempted from having to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test as a condition of entry, although they will have to quarantine.
The latest reforms, unveiled in the Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Pandemic) (No.3) Order 2020, reflect the position Mr Bethel articulated to The Tribune on Friday, when he sent a What’s App message disclosing that it would be amended to capture visitors arriving by private aviation. They also represent a marked expansion of the quarantine net compared to the first version released last week.
That just required passengers arriving by commercial airline to quarantine for 14 days, but this has now been expanded to capture persons arriving by private plane, charter or boat. As a result, it may shrink much of what remains of the tourism sector apart from the marina/boating sector, while also deterring potential high net worth real estate buyers from flying into this nation.
The government has made saving lives, and the nation’s health, its top priority in the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest border and travel protocol changes also coincide with the start of the slowest period in the tourism calendar.
Odyssey Aviation (Bahamas), the fixed base operator (FBO) at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA), in a message to clients yesterday detailed who will not be required to quarantine upon arriving in The Bahamas.
This category includes pilots who do not exit the plane on international charter flights that arrive empty to collect passengers, cargo or courier flights. US military and emergency medical flights are also exempt, including those involving Grand Bahama.
“Private Pilots arriving, who will be in country for less than 24 hours including overnighting, are requested to complete the Bahamas Travel Health Visa and upload their pilot Identification,” Odyssey added. “If you are in country for less than 24 hours you do not require a RT-PCR Covid-19 molecular swab test with negative results from an accredited lab but you will have to quarantine at your hotel facility.”