By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday defended the government’s decision to restart the tourism industry next month against criticisms from the opposition party, saying he has yet to hear a plan from the PLP.
“You know the leader of the opposition has to say something. I’m very interested in what their plan is. They’re all about what they don’t like, but I don’t hear what their plan is,” he told reporters ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.
While defending the government, Mr D’Aguilar said health officials have recommended more stringent measures to curb further spread, but this advice had to be weighed against other factors.
“That is definitely one of the recommendations that we go for a harder lockdown and a longer lockdown but there are other issues in play,” he said
“There are some people who say you shouldn’t lock down, they don’t work. There are some people who say you should lock down as hard as you possibly can, so the government is trying to take all that into consideration. Obviously, we’re very much guided by our technical advisors, the Ministry of Health, in coming to our decision.”
The minister was responding to recent comments made by opposition leader Philip “Brave” Davis, who accused the Minnis administration of not doing enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Mr Davis, in a statement released Monday, also hit out at the government’s tourism reopening plan, saying its recent announcement on the return of the tourism sector on November 1 shows that the government is “disconnected from reality”.
“As we have said repeatedly, our country cannot begin to recover economically until we first contain the virus,” Mr Davis said. “The United States has already warned its citizens not to travel to The Bahamas and PAHO indicated other nations were considering similar warnings. The government’s announcements about dates for hotels to reopen and cruise ships to return are disconnected from reality.”
In response, Mr D’Aguilar said he is not going to “sit back and do nothing” as suggested by Mr Davis until the COVID-19 cases are under control.
With the tourism industry being the country’s leading revenue generator, the minister said it is important for the government to strike both a health and economic balance to get more people back to work.
He said: “Many jurisdictions, I mean you just have to go through the Caribbean and look through all the different countries, they’re all coming up with plans to re-open their tourism sector. Given that this is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, I’m not going to sit back and do nothing.
“I guess that’s what he’s (Mr Davis) saying to do – ‘Do nothing until we get our community spread under control’. We’re a country of 16 different destinations. We have an archipelago of islands and where they have been successful thus far in many of the Family Islands, we just got to make sure that persons that travel, we mitigate as much as possible not only the importation of the virus through travellers coming in but also the transmission from our citizens to them.
“So, testing in businesses is paramount and the bottom line is we have to make an effort in the safest possible way with the necessary protocols to kickstart our tourism economy again. It is our bread and butter. It is our revenue, it is how we survive and so if the leader of the opposition is suggesting we sit back and wait, I’m going to push a little harder than that.”
In early September, the Ministry of Tourism said it was recommending hotels throughout the country resume full operations and use of beaches on October 15, with officials eying November 1 for the reopening of tourism attractions, tours and excursions.
The ministry has since announced new testing protocols for visitors and returning residents, requiring all to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in The Bahamas and again four days later as part of new rules that will take effect on November 1.
The move is also an effort to make travel to the Bahamas more tourism friendly while abandoning the need to quarantine for 14 days after arrival.
Yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar said officials are confident the new strategy will allow them to facilitate the return of the tourism industry in a safe manner.
“We figure that with that rigorous testing regime is going to significantly mitigate the possibilities of the importation of the virus into the country,” he said. “We’re trying to do a balancing act. We’re trying to get our economy going but we’re trying to do it in the safest possible way and we feel with this testing regime, we’ve discussed it with health professionals, we feel that this is a safe mechanism by which we can begin the reintroduction of tourism back into our economy.”
ahamas has more than 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.