Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
TRAVELLERS will need a COVID-19 negative test result to enter the country when international commercial flights resume on July 1, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar announced yesterday.
The Minnis administration had intended to allow visitors into the country after July 1 without proof of testing but rising infection rates in the U.S. has forced a u-turn.
Mr D’Aguilar said the country has lost almost one billion dollars in tourism revenue and close to 40,000 visitors because of the COVID-19 crisis.
While international flights will resume soon, he said it is unclear when cruise ships will return. Cruise ship companies are negotiating their resumption of transport with the US Centres for Disease Control, he said, with late August to early December identified as the range of time within which they are expected to return.
Mr D'Aguilar said: “The Nassau Cruise Port is projecting cruise arrivals into Nassau to decline by over 60 percent in 2020 compared to the record numbers in 2019. But they also project that by 2022 we should be back to pre-COVID-19 numbers and then, moving forward, add an additional one million cruise arrivals into Nassau every five years.”
As for requiring a COVID-19 negative test for entry to the country, Mr D’Aguilar said increasing COVID-19 cases in the United States has put “the Bahamas in an extremely difficult position".
“On the one hand,” he said, “we need foreign visitors to return to our country to restart our economy. Foreign visitors from the United States, especially from nearby Florida, Georgia and Texas and the northeast states of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and Massachusetts, form the bulk of our annual visitors. We need them to come to restart our tourism sector and put our people back to work. On the other hand, however, there are the legitimate health concerns that these very people that we need to restart our virtual tourism sector and put our people back to work, could end up causing a spike in COVID-19 cases here in the Bahamas and undoing the excellent results that the Ministry of Health has achieved in keeping our death rate low.
“Being the accountant that I am, I have looked at the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the aforementioned states and have calculated that were all 380,000 of us Bahamians located in Florida, we would have suffered 55 fatalities and not the 11 we have; were we all in Georgia, we would have suffered 87 fatalities and not the 11 we have; and were all 380,000 of us Bahamians located in New York, we would have suffered 466 fatalities, and not the 11 we have.
"As a country, we have fared far better than all of the states in the United States in terms of keeping our people safe and alive and I salute the prime minister, the former minister of health and all of the nation’s health care workers for a job well done. So, what are we to do now? As mentioned, we have opened the country to foreign visitors wishing to come here by private plane or pleasure craft or yacht. These persons will require a molecular swab PCR COVID-19 test with a negative result to enter the country.
"Given the spike in the number of positive COVID-19 tests in the United States and the uncertainty surrounding just how many cases will require hospitalisation, the government of the Bahamas has decided to maintain the current status quo until further notice. When we made our initial decision, evidence supported the opening of the tourism sector without the test. We had the full support of the tourism sector for this decision. But things have changed. The situation became unclear and ever changing so a prudent government must reassess and readjust all decisions related to this CVOID-19 virus as the situation evolves on the ground. And that is what we are doing here today.”
Mr D’Aguilar said officials will prioritise domestic tourism growth and plan to unveil a comprehensive promotional campaign encouraging Bahamians and residents to vacation domestically. On the international travel front, he said officials will prioritise markets with short haul flights, such as Florida, Atlanta and New York. He said officials will also promote secluded Family Island and beach vacations.
“Less-populated destinations such as the Family Islands may see an increase in tourism as the appeal of space and seclusion become more important factors in vacation planning,” he said.
The government allowed domestic travel to resume on June 8. On Monday, the borders were opened to boaters, yachters and private aviation. People in this category, as well as returning residents from overseas, were required to present a negative COVID-19 test to be cleared for travel.