By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Marina Association of The Bahamas (MAB) president yesterday said reimposing lockdowns to control the latest spike in COVID-19 cases is “not an option” for the tourism industry and wider economy.
Peter Maury, speaking to Tribune Business after US health authorities downgraded The Bahamas to a “Level 4” “very high” COVID risk, said the nation simply “cannot close down again” due to the immense harm this would inflict on businesses and livelihoods.
“Obviously it’s concerning for everybody,” he said of the recent uptick in infections. “We don’t need that. They’re [the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] advising not to travel to The Bahamas. So far it hasn’t filtered out. Hopefully it doesn’t do too much damage to us.
“It’s definitely not a good review. I think it could potentially definitely damage us, but hopefully we can get this thing under control. I don’t know how we’re going to fix it. We cannot close down again. That’s not an option. The virus hasn’t gone away and this is just a reminder. It’s more enforcement of the rules and cracking down on these unauthorised parties.”
The CDC, in moving The Bahamas back to “Level 4” and a “very high level of COVID-19”, urged all US citizens once again to avoid travelling to The Bahamas.
“Because of the current situation in The Bahamas even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants, and should avoid all travel to The Bahamas,” the US health authority warned. “If you must travel to The Bahamas, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travellers should wear a mask, stay six feet from others, avoid crowds and wash their hands.”
Such warnings could have a major deterrent effect on a US tourist source market that presently accounts for 90 percent-plus of all visitors to The Bahamas given the current travel restrictions still in place in Canada and much of Europe.
However, it is unclear how many Americans will pay heed to the CDC’s Bahamas downgrade, and/or whether this will influence any travel and vacation decision-making. And the revision is somewhat counterbalanced by the rapid COVID-19 vaccination rates and roll-out in the US, where some 50 percent of adults - and more than 80 percent of seniors - have had their first vaccine shots.
The CDC move, which reverses its upgrade of The Bahamas to ‘Level 3’ status just three months ago, comes in response to a significant recent spike in COVID-19 cases that has led to public health officials fearing the country faces a “third wave” of infections.
A further 55 COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday, including 21 on New Providence, 12 in Grand Bahama and nine in Abaco. Total cases stood just below 10,000 at 9,791, although only 468 of those were reported to be active. Of the latter figure, some 45 are currently in hospital, with four in intensive care. The 55 new cases add to the 143 recorded over the preceding three days.
However, Benjamin Simmons, proprietor of The Other Side and Ocean View properties on Harbour Island, voiced doubts to Tribune Business over whether the CDC downgrade will have any influence on travel demand for The Bahamas.
“I don’t anticipate it’s going to have a significant impact because we were at ‘Level 4’ for quite some time and very few people commented when we went to ‘Level 3’,” he said. “I’m not sure that it will impact us that heavily. There’s a huge degree of confidence that the system put in place by the Ministry of Tourism is working, and a lot of people have been vaccinated, so it’s less of a worry.
“We don’t get a lot of comments on the CDC level. It went up to ‘Level 4’ after Dorian and in spite of that people still travelled.”