By Leandra Rolle
GOVERNMENT officials are considering resuming commercial travel in the country “on or before” July 1, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced yesterday as he revealed the government’s long-awaited plans to “gradually” resume domestic travel.
Dr Minnis also announced the implementation of a COVID-19 travel card that will facilitate domestic travel. People can begin registering for this card, which requires a doctor’s examination, on Wednesday. He made the revelations during a national address after announcing no new COVID-19 cases in the country for the fourth consecutive day.
Noting that the country is continuing to make progress against the COVID-19 threat, Dr Minnis said officials have already begun implementing components of phase 2 of his administration’s phased plan for re-opening.
However, he said numerous factors will influence when the country will move on to the fifth and final stage, which will allow the country to re-open its borders and resume international travel and tourism operations.
“We are looking at a possible date for commercial travel on or before July 1 of this year,” he said. “These dates may change depending on the circumstance. I want to repeat, however, that this date is not final.
“It will be adjusted if we see a deterioration of the COVID-19 infection trends or if we’ve determined that the protocols and procedures are not in place sufficiently to warrant this opening.
“Our opening will depend on your cooperation. Our life commencing (to) the new normal will depend on your co-operation. The success of our economy will depend on your cooperation.”
During his address, Dr Minnis also relaxed restrictions on more Family Islands, allowing commercial activity to resume on Cat Island, Long Island, Abaco and Andros.
These islands now join Ragged Island, Rum Cay, Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay, which were given the green light to resume commercial operations earlier this month.
Exuma, San Salvador and Eleuthera, which also have no confirmed cases, were absent from the list; however no explanation was given for this. However Dr Minnis did chastise Eleuthera residents for a recent motorcade there.
Weekend lockdown and weekday curfew measures remain in effect for the whole country.
As it relates to domestic travel, Dr Minnis also announced that the government is set to begin a “gradual opening of inter-island travel.”
He said residents of cleared Family Islands stuck in New Providence or Grand Bahama will be allowed to travel in the first phase.
Outlining how the new COVID-19 travel card will work, he said: “The Ministry of Health has developed a policy and protocol for the approval and monitoring of individuals traveling to islands that have resumed normal commercial activity.
“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.”
He added: “The healthcare provider may still decide that a person who is low risk may need to be tested for COVID-19. Individuals traveling on behalf of their workplace will be subjected to similar requirements.”
Residents wishing to return home can register with the Ministry of Health on Wednesday, he added.
“Once cleared for travel, each traveler must present the COVID-19 Travel Authorisation Card to the relevant ticket agent… Residents of the cleared Family Islands may travel between those islands by plane or boat,” he continued.
Dr Minnis also further relaxed restrictions on exercise, while adding that construction companies and hardware stores will be allowed to operate under additional hours in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season.
“I wish to note that construction companies in New Providence and Grand Bahama may now operate on Saturdays from 7am to 1pm,” he said.
“To facilitate hurricane preparedness, home and hardware stores will now be allowed to operate in-store hours on Monday 8am to 8pm. This is in addition to the Wednesday and Friday in- store hours that home and hardware stores are currently allowed to operate.
“The operating hours also apply to manufacturers of hurricane proof windows and other hurricane related products. Curbside and delivery services may continue as previously outlined in Phase 1b.
“Pharmacies may now operate from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday for the general public and Saturday 9am to 5pm for essential workers only. Exercise may now take place on Saturday and Sunday from 5am to 8am in one’s immediate neighbourhood.”