By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GOVERNMENT has banned all commercial flights and vessels from Haiti beginning today in a move, officials said, was done as a precautionary measure to prevent the risk of imported coronavirus cases from Haiti now that the country has entered its Carnival season.
The embargo on all travel from Haiti was announced in the latest amendment to COVID-19 Emergency Powers Orders released over the weekend.
According to the order, the ban will be enforced for a period of 21 days.
It states: “Entry into The Bahamas of any vessel or person, who has departed from Haiti, whether by direct transport routes or by transiting through another jurisdiction, and whether arriving by air or sea shall be prohibited for a period of 21 days commencing at 12.01 am on Monday.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said yesterday the decision was made in response to concerns about Haiti’s Carnival activities, which are seen as super spreader events.
Haiti’s Carnival, which began yesterday, is one of the nation’s biggest cultural events each year. It was cancelled last year after several violent protests disrupted the first day of the planned festivities.
However, this year’s events are being held in Port-de-Paix despite ongoing political unrest and COVID-19 concerns.
“The reason for the ban or what we call the embargo on flights between us and Haiti at the moment is because Haiti has entered its Carnival season today or tomorrow and I think it lasts for a couple of weeks and we were concerned about mitigating potential spread of course with COVID,” Mr Henfield said yesterday.
“You know in The Bahamas, we didn’t do our Junkanoo season in the way that we normally do. Trinidad didn’t do its Carnival in the way that it normally does and so we’re just being cautious here. This is just a precautionary step taken by the government to avoid any potential untoward activities after.”
The announcement might cause some observers to question the government’s rationale for implementing a travel ban solely against Haiti and not other countries, especially where COVID-19 cases are rising and other more infectious variants are also said to be spreading.
Asked about this yesterday, the North Abaco MP replied: “My answer would be very simple. Carnival like atmospheres, we believe, can pose as a potential spread of the virus. My answer would also be that if in The Bahamas, we didn’t do our beloved Junkanoo season. Trinidad didn’t do its beloved Carnival season because of the potential risks associated with the pandemic which we face now.
“Our health officials continue to monitor the spread of COVID and the variants from those various countries and the technical experts make the call and the government listens and we react accordingly.”
As it stands now, the minister said there are no current plans to stop flights or vessels from entering The Bahamas from other countries.
It is not clear how many Bahamians in Haiti have been affected by the latest travel restriction, with Mr Henfield telling The Tribune that those affected will be assisted by officials as necessary.
He told The Tribune: “There are no plans for repatriation flights and I have no knowledge of any Bahamian who may have been inadvertently cut off or impacted immediately but it’s likely that there will be and you know in this day and era of the pandemic, these things happen and we try to work through them as best as we can.”
The government has issued travel bans in the past in response to the ongoing pandemic.
In March 2020, the country’s borders were closed to all incoming travellers, including Bahamian citizens, in a bid to prevent the COVID spread.
International commercial travel resumed on July 1, but a travel ban was later reimposed on all international flights and vessels with the exception of those coming from a few countries, after the country saw a spike of new cases. The travel restrictions were lifted later last year.