By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday admitted that leisure tourism is now “a very, very difficult sell” for The Bahamas given that all visitors must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to prevent COVID-19’s spread.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister for tourism and aviation, conceded to reporters outside the Cabinet Office that the combination of more stringent entry requirements and constant, rapid changes to these measures had made it very difficult to market The Bahamas’ major industry as the government focuses on preventing further spread of the virus.
“There was a certain element of confusion with the sudden changes in our orders,” Mr D’Aguilar conceded. “As you would know, we closed the country to US flights and then we opened the country to all flights. Then we imposed a 14-day quarantine, and then we had the lockdown. So obviously the government was reacting to the changing state of affairs as it relates to COVID on the ground.
“We’re in the midst of surge number two. We fixed surge number one, and the government is now trying to address surge number two. There is no doubt that, by imposing the 14-day quarantine, that has had a significant impact on foreign visitors coming to the country.”
Mr D’Aguilar added: “The 14-day quarantine makes leisure tourism very, very difficult to sell. Obviously it is a critical component of preventing surge number three. So we are trying to work out situations where we can prevent a surge and allow some semblance of tourism to happen, and the 14-day quarantine makes it very, very difficult for you to have leisure tourism.
“What we learned was that the reason for surge number two was because persons were going out of the country, or coming into the country, and some may have had a COVID test and some may not have had a COVID test.
“But the critical feature was that those that were required to quarantine, weren’t quarantining, and were going into the community and causing the spread that we have most noticeably in Grand Bahama and in other parts of the country. So we really have to fix the quarantining and make sure that people understand the importance of that, and that there is sufficient enforcement.”
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.”
Responding to questions that tracking persons who quarantine in a hotel is problematic, Mr D’Aguilar said: “Well, how do you control quarantining in a home? Obviously everybody gets on to the HUBCAT. They put the app on the phone and they track the phone to see where you are. National security is going to get very much involved in this process, and they are going to be the ones who are checking up and following up on you to make sure that you comply with quarantining.”
“Quarantining is critical, and when you decide to go away, come back and not quarantine, you lead to the outcome we’re having now. It was 14 days after we opened that we started to see cases going up, primarily in Grand Bahama as people move back and forth to South Florida and back.”
Mr D’Aguilar also suggested that the reimposition of a full national lockdown is not imminent. “As advised by the health professionals on Monday night, we don’t need to go to a full lockdown,” he said. “We can have the Monday to Friday scenario, and then on Saturday and Sunday we will lockdown on the weekends.
“We’ll see how that takes us, and then we will readjust based on how the numbers come in. Of course Grand Bahama continues to lockdown, and we are going to continue that lockdown until the numbers begin to flatten and trend back down.”