By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Family Island tourism would have been "crushed" if the US had insisted on all its returning citizens taking only the PCR test to prove they are not COVID-19 carriers, resorts said yesterday.
Relieved that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is permitting those returning from international travel to take the rapid antigen test, as well as the PCR test, from January 26, the industry said the new mandate represented "no big deal” for The Bahamas given that it has rolled-out some 60 testing sites across the archipelago.
Matthew Brear, general manager of Long Island's Cape Santa Maria property, told Tribune Business: “The rapid antigen test on day five will satisfy the US requirement. The Bahamas is in a good position to benefit from this. Our guests pay for the test already with their Health Visa.
"The proactivity of the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Health has positioned the Bahamas very favourably in comparison to competing destinations that do not have a tried and true testing programme for visitors.
"Not only will US visitors now be required to stay more than four nights (instead of checking out after four nights to avoid the test) in order to access the testing we already have in place, this test (as it would seem) satisfies both countries' travel requirements.”
The Bahamas requires all visitors staying in this country beyond four nights to take a rapid antigen test to confirm they are not carrying the virus. This test, which is taken on the fifth vacation day, would thus enable US visitors staying in this country for around a week to meet their home nation's new requirement for testing negative within three days prior to travelling back to the US.
The CDC policy, though, may deter Americans, who traditionally account for 82 percent of The Bahamas' visitors, from short stays of five days or less as the US belatedly follows The Bahamas and other nations in demanding that travellers provide evidence they are COVID-free.
Meanwhile Chris Morris, the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina's general manager, said: “If rapid tests are accepted, it is not a big deal. Had it been a required PCR test, the Family Islands would have been crushed. At Cape Eleuthera we already do fifth day rapid tests so we are in good shape.”
Cape Santa Maria's Mr Brear, in a letter to the Ministry of Tourism, said guest “feedback” on The Bahamas' COVID testing regime had been “overwhelmingly positive".
He wrote: “As you are aware, yesterday it was announced that as of January 26, all passengers entering the US will require negative COVID tests, taken within the three days prior to their flight to the US.”
Should the US accept the rapid antigen test, Mr Brear added: “If this is the case, The Bahamas is well positioned to enjoy a significant advantage over its tourism competitors should the relevant authorities make the necessary steps to customise the programme effectively in place to also satisfy the requirements of the US government.”
He suggested said that The Bahamas' Travel Health Visa should now include the language "viral test"; proper identification of the test recipient; and confirmation that the rapid antigen test result has been “certified by a lab".
Urging that these changes be made by the Government, Mr Brear said: “The testing windows of five days (after arrival to the Bahamas) and three days (prior to entry to the US) required of The Bahamas and US governments, respectively, will adequately serve visitors to The Bahamas for an eight-day-or-fewer stay. Although this will provide for a majority of our resort guests, steps will need to be taken to allow for visitors to Long Island who wish to stay beyond eight days.”
He also warned that, even though Bahamian clinics have a “quota” of rapid antigen tests allocated to them according to an island's number of Travel Health Visa applications, "in order to fully service visitors to The Bahamas with extended stays (beyond eight days), clinics will need additional kits beyond what is specified through the Health Visa application.
"Administering rapid antigen tests to these visitors will pay for itself – a fee of $100 for any rapid antigen test administered above and beyond The Bahamas' 'day five' protocol is reasonable.”