Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A WEEK after the government suspended the repatriation flights of Bahamians stuck abroad, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced yesterday that those flights will resume this week, allowing Bahamians to return home.
This comes after health officials revealed last week that two tests conducted on the Grand Bahama male passenger who initially tested positive for COVID-19 before travelling on a repatriation flight had yielded negative results.
In view of this, officials said they felt “satisfied” that the passenger did not present a risk to other passengers aboard the flight.
Noting that the system has been streamlined to avoid a second occurrence of last week’s incident, Dr Minnis said two repatriation flights will be scheduled for this Thursday and Sunday.
“Two repatriation exercises are scheduled for this coming week from Fort Lauderdale into New Providence. There will be flight this Thursday, May 21 and one on Saturday, May 23,” he said.
“A flight to Grand Bahama will be accommodated if necessary. Those who are seeking to return home through this repatriation exercise and who meet the required protocols including a COVID-19 negative test may book directly through Bahamasair. Those who already have a return ticket on Bahamasair should call the airline’s office between 9am and 5pm beginning (today).”
Dr Minnis added that passengers will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result to Bahamasair ticket agents before boarding the aircraft.
“A representative of the Consul General’s (office) will be present who will validate the COVID test result,” he continued.
Hundreds of Bahamians were left abroad after the country closed its borders in late March in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Calling the situation “unfortunate”, Dr Minnis said at the time that it was “essential” for officials to close the country’s borders to prevent the further spread of the highly infectious disease.
However, after facing controversy for allowing six permanent American residents into the country during the lockdown who brought COVID-19 test supplies but were not tested before entry, the government repatriated nearly 200 Bahamians stuck abroad amid the pandemic.
During his national address last Sunday, Dr Minnis suspended the repatriation exercises after revealing that a Grand Bahama passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 was among the 183 residents who returned to the country.
It was later revealed that the passenger was not on Bahamasair’s initial list of people slated to join the government’s repatriation exercise, prompting an investigation in the matter.
Dr Merceline Dahl-Regis, the co-ordinator of the government’s COVID-19 task-force, said on Friday although the passenger has since tested negative for the virus, she did not justify the passenger’s actions for boarding the flight while knowing he could have been a COVID-19 carrier.
“It doesn’t justify his coming on the flight, but health is in charge to determine if this person presented a risk to the other passengers on the flight, and the only way we can do that is to know his COVID-19 status,” she said during a press conference on Friday.
“So, immediately a test and swab was taken not only on this person but his accompanying travel companions and sent to the lab. Upon disembarkation, this is what was done.”
She continued: “We got the negative swabs and we interpret that as not shedding the virus so when he came on the plane, he was not shedding the virus.
“We weren’t satisfied so we repeated the test and that too was negative. That confirmed to the health team that he was not shedding the virus when he took the flight hence, the health team is satisfied that he was not shedding the virus when he took the flight.”