By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WHAT was supposed to be a fun getaway to Eleuthera for the Easter holiday weekend is now full of uncertainty for Dianna Malone, who fears she might not be able to return home as planned due to a new travel policy implemented for that island.
According to the latest COVID-19 Emergency Orders, anyone travelling from Harbour Island and Eleuthera to any other part of the Bahamas will now have to take a RT-PCR test in order to obtain a travel visa.
Travellers from Eleuthera and Harbour Island will also have to submit to a rapid antigen test five days after arrival to any island in The Bahamas, the order added.
The new travel policies, which were released Wednesday night, came into effect on Thursday.
New Providence resident, Mrs Malone told The Tribune her hopes of having a short, stress-free trip have now been dashed thanks to the new travel requirement.
She said the unexpected change has now left her and her family scrambling to find out how to book appointments for COVID-19 tests to ensure they return home on Monday as originally planned.
“It’s stressful honestly,” she told this newspaper Thursday. “We just arrived (Thursday morning) because we usually travel to Eleuthera during the Easter holiday every year, but we missed last year because of COVID-19 and because I was pregnant.
“We didn’t find out until 8pm last night and I had already spent close to $1,000 preparing for this trip between tickets, PCR tests in Nassau and supplies, etc, and I couldn’t cancel my tickets without losing the money because it was less than 48 hours in advance.
“The logistics alone of travelling through the island to the very few places that administer the tests are a lot, and not to mention the tremendous cost.”
This comes amid reports that some medical facilities on Eleuthera are allegedly charging between $200 to $400 to administer a RT-PCR COVID test.
When asked about the price of the tests on the island, Mrs Malone was unable to say definitely, but said it “seemed the average cost is $300 per person.”
She added the new rules have left a bitter taste in her mouth as it relates to inter-island travel.
“We had family looking at it, but it seems the cost is $300 per person,” she added.
“Having to pay double than what we paid in Nassau is insane and we got to come up with the money within a day? It makes me feel discouraged to travel to the islands now. It’s cheaper to travel to the US which we avoided because that is a true hotspot for COVID.”
With most local clinics expected to be closed for the holiday weekend, Mrs Malone said she is also concerned about not getting their test results in time to return home on Monday.
“I’m mostly worried about getting it back on time to get back to Nassau on Monday to get to work on Tuesday. In Nassau, it takes at least 24 hours to get it back so I can only imagine how long it might take here with the holiday on Friday,” Mrs Malone said
Asked what the next step for the family would be if results are not released in time, the mother-of-one replied: “I don’t think there is much of an option and we will have to leave later. but my husband may have to take any extra days we are staying here for unpaid (time off). I have some vacation time I can use, but my husband doesn’t.”
If all else fails, Mrs Malone said she and her husband will travel to Spanish Wells or Harbour Island to take an expedited COVID test.
She said: "Someone I know had theirs done this morning in Harbour Island and to have it expedited cost them $400 so we don't really have a choice."
Asked if she now regrets planning the trip, she replied: "We don't regret coming in as I am sure my daughter is going to enjoy her time here but honestly, it does discourage me from coming back anytime soon because I am afraid of what other restrictions they may end up putting in."
The new policy comes as the island is seeing an uptick of positive COVID cases, with health officials said to be on the ground conducting an assessment of contact tracing efforts there.
However, some Eleuthera residents have criticised the government for announcing the rule without giving ample warning, especially considering the fact that many locals and visitors had already made travel plans for the holiday weekend.
Progressive Liberal Party Senator Clay Sweeting echoed similar sentiments in a statement released on Thursday, where he called the new rule “grossly unfair” to the people in Eleuthera.
“Once again, the people of Eleuthera and Harbour Island are surprised by a sudden restriction that will no doubt negatively affect the local tourist economy,” Mr Sweeting said.
“Eleuthera is possibly one of the only destinations where tourists have returned in high volumes, but instead of formulating an effective plan to address the concerns, all we have is the same old last-minute decision making once again.
“These new restrictions have raised more questions and the latest amendment issued by the Prime Minister shows his lack of compassion for our Family Islanders. It’s hard to understand where this has come from. People would have already made travel plans and suddenly without warning they are going to have to find a way to get a test or cancel those plans.”
Mr Sweeting also questioned the logic behind the competent authority’s decision, noting it appears the Minnis administration “is making things up as they go.”
He continued: “Are there even facilities in place for people to be able to take the tests being demanded by the government? Is there a provision for testing sites to be open to the public during the holiday weekend? How about the people that are travelling tomorrow?
“… This is governance on an ad hoc basis – there’s no plan, there’s no communication, and there’s no sympathy for the people of Eleuthera who have been suffering for so long. This kind of action is sounding the death knell for businesses and ruining the lives of people who don’t know from one day to the next what the rules will be.”
According to the Office of the Prime Minister, the new travel requirements for Eleuthera “are expected to be eased with the acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out.”