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Covid-19 Rise 'Inevitable' With Tourism's Reopening

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Requiring visitors to take a COVID-19 test before they enter The Bahamas is “a non-starter”, a Cabinet minister argued yesterday, while warning that the tourism industry’s July 1 re-opening will “inevitably” increase cases.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas would “suffer an unprecedented period of economic malaise” if it failed to restart the industry that provides the greatest amount of jobs and foreign exchange earnings despite the risks associated with triggering a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Speaking after Dr Duane Sands, former minister of health, told the House of Assembly that no one should be admitted to The Bahamas without undergoing a PCR molecular swab test for COVID-19 prior to their arrival, Mr D’Aguilar admitted that the issue continues to pose “a conundrum” for the tourist-dependent nation.

He added, though, that the time, expense and logistical difficulty involved in mandating that tourists obtain such a test before departing for The Bahamas was viewed by the tourism industry as too difficult “an impediment to overcome” when seeking to attract business back to this nation after July 1.

“The Ministry of Tourism consulted industry and it was the firm belief of The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) that requiring a PCA molecular swab COVID-19 test was a non-starter,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business.

“First of all, the airline industry was not prepared to check it, and industry felt this would be a very difficult impediment to overcome in one’s attempt to attract persons to this destination.”

Dr Sands, in his contribution to the 2020-2021 Budget debate in the House of Assembly, said he did not support opening The Bahamas’ borders to persons who had not been tested for COVID-19 - especially those coming from countries and areas that are currently suffering a surge in infections.

The US, which now has more than 2m confirmed COVID-19 cases, and accounts for 82 percent of all visitors who come to The Bahamas, is one such nation where infections appear to be spiking across a number of states. Dr Sands, while acknowledging the need to restart the Bahamian economy, argued that this nation should not endanger the gains created by its containment of COVID-19 to 103 confirmed cases to-date.

Agreeing with his former Cabinet colleague that the latest COVID-19 developments in the US were “disconcerting”, Mr D’Aguilar conceded that The Bahamas faces a major dilemma and “balancing act” between the economic devastation caused by not reopening a travel-dependent economy and the health risks associated with admitting potential virus carriers.

Warning that the tourism re-opening will almost certainly trigger an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, the minister told this newspaper: “This is a conundrum for The Bahamas. On the one side we need to restore our economy, and an integral component of this economy is tourism.

“But, inevitably, with the arrival of more persons on the island, there will undoubtedly be an uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 cases..... This is the conundrum. It’s not easy. We could sit back and say we will not let anybody in, but The Bahamas would suffer an unprecedented period of economic malaise. It’s a balancing act.”

Referring to Dr Sands’ warning, Mr D’Aguilar added: “He’s right. It’s disconcerting what’s happening in our core market, the US. It’s a very difficult situation to be in.” He said the “ideal” would be for a rapid COVID-19 test to be administered to tourists before their arrival in The Bahamas, but such a device is simply not available yet.

Confirming that all tourists, Bahamians and non-Bahamians will still be required to undertake a COVID-19 PCR molecular swab before entering The Bahamas prior to July 1, Mr D’Aguilar said the borders will still re-open to private aviation, boats and yachts from June 15 as these niches can both be closely monitored and register their arrivals in advance electronically.

The minister’s comments mirror those he gave during the tourism industry’s re-opening announcement on June 2, where he disclosed that requiring a COVID-19 PCR test will “no longer be viable” given the time required for the findings to come back. Temperature screening of persons on arrival at air and sea ports, and their completion of health questionnaires so the individual risk they pose can be better assessed, will be the preferred methods.

“In terms of testing as we know it, that will no longer be reasonable,” Mr D’Aguilar added then. “We just have to implement and comply with the practices of social distancing, mask wearing, and that will help us to mitigate the risk, not eliminate it.”

However, Dr Hubert Minnis, in his pre-Labour Day press conference, said no decision had been made on what form of COVID-19 screening/testing would be required following the tourism industry’s July 1 re-opening, stopping short of what was announced by Mr D’Aguilar.

The latter, meanwhile, said “no one quite knows yet” what the strength of Bahamian tourism’s rebound will be once the industry re-opens on July 1. “It will probably be a slow ramp up. The world is still somewhat unsettled,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business.

“People are still assessing whether they wish to travel in this environment, but The Bahamas is performing well in terms of interest on Trip Advisor. They performed a study which showed The Bahamas as a destination to travel to in the Americas was experiencing a lot of interest primarily because we’ve indicated we’re prepared to open.

“But it’s a fluid situation. The Government reserves the right to reverse its decision at any time, but it’s not an easy decision by any means.”

Comments

moncurcool 3 months, 1 week ago

He added, though, that the time, expense and logistical difficulty involved in mandating that tourists obtain such a test before departing for The Bahamas was viewed by the tourism industry as too difficult “an impediment to overcome” when seeking to attract business back to this nation after July 1. “The Ministry of Tourism consulted industry and it was the firm belief of The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) that requiring a PCA molecular swab COVID-19 test was a non-starter,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business.

And you thought slavery was over and discrimination was done. Oh well so much for that belief.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

Im guessing he only acknowledged this because of Sands' contribution. Its such an odd syatement. He says we need to open the borders, we know some tourists will come in infected but we cant afford to ask them to produce a test to enter, the the minister of Health then says testing is completely unnecessary. contact tracing is sufficient.

Anybody gat a life raft for sale?

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John 3 months, 1 week ago

Why do you think the cruise lines have gone defeningly silent ontheir start up dates? Many will not open before next year. The risk factors are too great and so are the variables for the potential of a ship becoming infected. Other caribbean countries will not let these crusie ships in just now, especially jamaica that has been threatened by one of the cruise lines for not allowing in one of its shipsthat had corona infected passengers

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Hoda 3 months, 1 week ago

Bahamians all about online, on the news, screaming for the country to be opened up. If you been out today a lot of people were out and about wearing their masks, a lot were not. Everyone is not going to pleased. Nonetheless, incoming visitors should be required to be tested.

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ohdrap4 3 months, 1 week ago

I went to the bank. There was someone walking around wiping door handles and counters theree were plexiglass barriers. But, but some employees had the masks around their necks, or their nose sticking out of the masks, which is particularly unattractive.

I went to a wholesaler, and the employees,were behind the glass wall but their masks were around their neck.

Testing is futile.

People figured out it is a hoax.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

non strategic testing is futile

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tribanon 3 months, 1 week ago

I wouldn't call over half a million people dying worldwide within 4 months a hoax.....and that's before any adjustment upwards for Communist China's gross understatement of the number of Chinese who were killed by the deadly Covid-19 virus.

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paulhummerman 3 months, 1 week ago

When the waters are stormy and potentially fatal you start in the shallow end. Surely it makes sense to start cautiously, initially requiring negative tests for entry to the country. If after a couple of months everything is still fine, then relax requirements, first only for residents who can self quarantine, then, as numbers in the US fall drastically, open the spigot to masked tourists. There are currently 24 active cases in the Bahamas. Since around 0.4 % of Americans currently have active infections, it would only take just over a thousand tourists to double the number of infections.

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Porcupine 3 months, 1 week ago

Exponential growth does not work that way, Paul. It will only take one tourist, who contacts how many, and then those contact how many. Starting off slowly doesn't matter so long as we are not testing, and have gotten very lax in our recommended social distancing and mask wearing.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

Isn't this eerily familiar? the week of March 3rd? At that point tourism was gearing up to market the Bahamas as a "COVID safe zone". The reality thst the disease could be deadly for some, cause widespread infections and overwhelm the health system was incomprehensible. Touridm stated position was, let the world redirect their travel here we'll benefit from COVID.

We are back there again. To the place where a wave is a notion out there but nothing for our sleepy little Shire to worry about

It's almost uncanny

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

I wonder if anyone in the industry has looked at the possibility of packaging testing into the booking system.

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lovingbahamas 3 months, 1 week ago

The current rule for private pilots and boats to enter requiring a covid test is insane. Furthermore, they just announced this on Thursday with 4 days until the 15th. It is conceivable that you would be entering the Bahamas with a stale 15 day old test which only wastes tests. The only reason that they are requiring this is political since they are requiring people traveling on commercial aircraft to have a Covid test-which by the way is also stale. You would think the PM, as a doctor, would realize this. The fact is there is no way, except for closing the gates, to prevent Covid from coming in. Even instant tests upon entry, which are unreliable and currently not available in bulk, aren't the answer. I highly doubt the Bahamas has taken this closure to stock up on PPG and ventilators and prepare hospitals for the next wave like they have done in the U.S. The Bahamas is stuck between a rock and a hard place-economic annihilation and potential sickness. No one knows the answer. There is a point where the Bahamas can't borrow enough money to stay alive. All of us have a choice to stay inside and avoid contact. If you have this legitimate fear, and have enough money to do this that is your best choice. If you have to earn money to live, there is a calculated risk you have to take. And, they have to let the tourists in. Sounds like the cruise ships, Baha Mar, Sandals are delaying until the fall. That may slow things down but slows the economy down. Only time will tell. But, do away with these stupid stale tests. That is the one thing that definitely doesn't work.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

"It is conceivable that you would be entering the Bahamas with a stale 15 day old test which only wastes tests"

Ahah! That is precisely why a few days ago I proposed a change to the international bookings algorithms. Since this is a global problem it doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibilities that all platforms could be upgraded to synchronize a test booking with an airline/cruise booking. The same principle could be applied to getting a private vessel permit. With the bookings synchronized you can only book a trip if a test is available and the test results are synchronized to be returned "fresh" at the time of the trip. Perhaps there might even be a requirement to take another test for the return trip. In addition to that test result if you are in a hotel or disembarking a ship you are required to log a temperature check at an approved station 3 times per day. Is it an inconvenience? A reminder that you still live in a global pandemic? Yes. But it's better than a rising death toll.

Don't worry, they wont do anything even close to this proposal. Good forbid we put our island health before the tourist dollar

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happyfly 3 months, 1 week ago

There is nothing we can do about this virus until there is herd immunity. We have all wasted three months pretending this damn thing would go away if we stuck our head in the sand and we have exhausted all of our savings in the meantime. Now we have no other option but to go back to work and rely on our own immune systems to save us. Shame on all of you that thought some egotistical politicians were going to save us by bullying us around and making up stupid new rules every day. Stopping us from going to the beach for bejezus sake !? Shame on our leaders and doctors for scaring the crap out of everyone instead of educating and helping people to understand the risks and get their immune systems in the best condition possible to fight off the disease. As one writer already said, we are exactly right back where we started again. From March till now, with Covid set to re-enter the country again with the first planeload of tourists, and we are no better equipped to survive in the long run than we were in March. The failure of leadership is profound.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

I think you're wrong about the lockdowns. They do work. But n order to be something other than a waste of time they have to be done in conjunction with strategic testing and proper planning for the reopening. We've seen none of the latter 2 initiatives. So ultimately I'll agree with you, it was a waste of time for us.

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mandela 3 months, 1 week ago

The Bahamas COVID-19 pandemic is all but gone away, that means that at this stage we can only be newly infected by persons coming in from somewhere abroad, the USA continues to see new cases in the 1000's daily. If our borders are opened up on July 1st and tourists are allowed to enter WITHOUT testing negative before entering the country and they are allowed to bring in COVID-19 to infect us all, all over again, then all parties responsible for such an act allowing entry should be punished for treason.

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ohdrap4 3 months, 1 week ago

Man, we need to go to work and pay bills. Why don't you to remove the statue and forget covid?

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tribanon 3 months, 1 week ago

The recent surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations in Florida, especially South Florida, should be a real cause for great concern. You clearly either value money more than life itself or simply don't care because you yourself may not be elderly with one or more pre-existing conditions. In any event don't expect North American leisure travellers in large numbers to be eager to travel by plane or ship to the Bahamas anytime soon....that's just not going to happen. Suggest you and others like you start seriously thinking about the 'new normal' you should be preparing for. The feast is over and the famine is here.

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 1 week ago

"You clearly either value money more than life itself"

This is the lot of the poor and the working class, don't work and die or work and die. It's the exact same phenomenon they uncovered in a study of the black plague. The poor had to go to work. In fact, the work some poor people had to do to eat was, take care of infected rich owners.

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tribanon 3 months, 1 week ago

The poor working class will need to knock on the door of the corrupt fat political elite ruling class for a bone to gnaw on when the national insurance fund soon runs dry. It was after all the poor who for decades allowed the corrupt political elite to feast off the fat of the land with only an occasional morsel thrown their way for their vote. But these poor voters shouldn't be surprised when they find out many of the fat political elite already have their wealth and second homes abroad in other less riskier countries than the Bahamas.

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