By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian businessman has hailed the end to the government's COVID-19 travel card "nightmare" that he says cost his corporate group "two weeks' worth of work".
Robert Myers, head of the Caribbean Group of Companies, told Tribune Business that the requirement for workers to be examined by a doctor and given the all-clear before they could travel from New Providence to other Bahamian islands had merely added increased costs and time for his business.
Workers then had to register with the Ministry of Health, but Mr Myers said his companies either failed to get travel approvals/confirmations back from the authorities or workers were denied permission to travel without any explanation.
He added that the revised system introduced by the prime minister on May 31, just one week before inter-island domestic travel resumed on Monday, represented a "breakthrough" because they slashed the previous bureaucracy and red tape by requiring that passengers fill out health and travel forms at the point of departure.
"That was a big problem for commerce," Mr Myers said of the previous COVID-19 "health card". "They've simplified the inter-island travel, and that's a significant benefit to the ease of doing business and commerce.
"The doctor part was expensive and time consuming. But the real problem is that by the time we've got the doctor approvals we weren't getting responses back [from the Ministry of Health] or they were declined without explanation as to why. That was the problem.
"I can't have guys sitting around. We're trying to deploy people back to work, and can't wait around. I don't believe the Ministry of Health had the resources and capacity to properly manage and carry out the procedures and processes they implemented, and only made it more convoluted."
Mr Myers said his group had successfully managed to arrange the return of workers from New Providence to Andros just before the "COVID-19 health card" was unveiled in mid-May, having provided PCR tests for all staff to the island's clinic and nurse, and obtaining permission to travel from the Commissioner of Police.
He described this as "a much better system" than the travel card proposal, something the government appeared to realise a fortnight later when it reduced the requirements to just filling out a travel and health form without the doctor's examination.
"It was a nightmare. The system was impossible to carry out. You've got aviation and health and the private doctors trying to co-ordinate," Mr Myers told Tribune Business. "There was no integrated system for doing it. You can imagine what a mess that will be if aviation was trying to validate health signed off on it, as they won't otherwise let you on the plane.
"It caused us to miss two weeks of business because we couldn't get the approvals; they couldn't get it co-ordinated." Mr Myers said his firm also had work in Abaco and Exuma during that period.
Dr Hubert Minnis, in unveiling the initial COVID-19 health card, said: "This policy and protocol will require individuals to register with the Ministry of Health by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 511. Individuals must also submit to an evaluation by a Ministry of Health authorised physician in the public or private sector.
"The evaluation will include a risk assessment via a questionnaire to determine the individual's level of risk for COVID-19 infection, plus or minus a physical exam to determine the presence of any symptoms consistent with COVID-19."
He continued: "If deemed a low risk and the physical exam does not reveal any symptoms, it is expected that the person will be issued a COVID-19 Authorisation Travel Card that will allow travel to the Family Island. If the individual is deemed a higher risk or has symptoms that may be consistent with COVID-19, the individual will be referred for testing to definitively determine their COVID-19 status."
This was then altered just two weeks later to "completing a standardised travel form and a standardized health form at the time of check-in".