By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian marina and private aviation operators yesterday warned that imposing a 14-day mandatory quarantine on their clients will "hurt a lot when they cancel and don't show up".
Peter Maury, the Association of Bahamas Marinas' (ABM) president, told Tribune Business he could not understand the purpose behind the new restrictions given that previous measures had proven effective in preventing COVID-19 from being spread by arriving boaters.
"I think it is a tough decision," he argued, "because based on the law and the way that it was written, vessels can come in - or private aviation can come in - with just a negative test, and if they are here and they move to another island, they have to fill out our a domestic certificate.
"So I don't quite understand the purpose of the 14 days, because just based on that information alone the government can track anywhere that they go. They [foreign boaters] are not allowed out of the marinas, they are not allowed on the streets because they have limited access to everything, with just basically gas stations and grocery stores the same way Bahamians are. So I kind of don't understand the whole purpose of that."
Mr Maury added: "To be quite honest, a lot of these boats, they don't have 14 days. They may have seven days or they may be on a charter, and they want to come back to Nassau and disembark and pull back out.
"I think it's not a great idea. We opened the marinas on June 15 to July 1, and we didn't have any incidents and we ran pretty smooth. It was after July 1 that we had a problem, so I just don't understand why we don't go back to June 15 and start again and open like July 1 in a different way when we get to that, if it's in a week or two weeks, but hopefully it's soon."
Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, confirmed on Monday night 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." He 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.
"We have to strike the right balance. Absolute shutdown is not a feasible option," Mr Bethel 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."
Mr Maury said "thousands of boats" were scattered across The Bahamas' territorial waters during the US and Bahamian Independence weekends, and added: "I think this 14-day quarantine is going to be tough on our arrivals, and it's going to be tough on the vessels that are here for them to understand this, because as long as they are pretty much at sea or in a marina, they are not coming to shore and they certainly aren't going into any restaurants or gyms or anything else because they are all closed.
"But they are fearful of being locked down in a facility, and that I think is enough to deter just about everybody travelling to The Bahamas with yachts or for private homes. That's our biggest market right now, yachts and Airbnb, and people renting private homes to come and stay in The Bahamas, because there are no major hotels open. There are boutique hotels and stuff like that which are in an uptick, but that's going to hurt a lot when they all cancel and don't show up."
Lori Roach, director of Golden Wings Charter, said: "I'm afraid people aren't going to be coming here on vacation because most vacations aren't two weeks long. I do understand that they can quarantine in the hotels, but if they have to stay in the hotel the entire time then it defeats the purpose of a vacation.
"The only saving grace would be the RBO's (rental by owners)/Airbnb types. If people can rent a house and then they are confined to the property, I think people might want to do that but that's a very small part of the population that would do that."
Ms Roach also said: "I'm very concerned, and most of the airlines have cancelled their flights to and from the US, just anticipating that people aren't going to want to do this. But we're still available for operating and I have been taking tons of calls, so we're hoping that our business will stay fluid at this time..
"Now that there is no distinction between private and commercial I think the 14-day quarantine across the board is for everybody, so I guess that's fair."