By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday expressed confidence that The Bahamas has a sound regime in place to satisfy an impending policy change requiring all air passengers entering the United States to have a negative COVID-19 test.
In the meantime, Bahamian officials continue to await word on whether the US will introduce exemptions for this country from the new COVID-19 testing policy, which will come into force on January 26.
However, if the United States’ response is unfavourable, Mr D’Aguilar said there are 80 COVID-19 testing sites across the country to ensure people returning to America can receive results in a timely manner.
Local officials are also exploring options to encourage visitors to adhere to the government’s antigen test requirement for those who have travelled here and are staying more than five days.
Earlier this month, Ministry of Health Senior House Officer Dr Cherita Moxey announced that 46 percent of travellers required to take the rapid antigen test five days after arriving in The Bahamas had not complied with the requirement.
The figure represents 21,000 people.
“In the event that no waiver is forthcoming, The Bahamas feels it is in a relatively good position to fulfil this requirement because in developing our entry protocols one of the requirements was you get a five-day rapid antigen test,” the minister told The Tribune.
“As a result, I think we’ve got about 80 testing sites all over the country that were implemented in order to fulfil this requirement. So, that could conversely be used in order to fulfil the requirement to return to the United States.
“We’re looking at our visa website to see how we can get people to pre-pay for that, for them to purchase the antigen test when they are coming to The Bahamas.
“So, they buy the visa and their test for the fifth day if they are going to be here for five days then they can go ahead and purchase the rapid antigen test so they know that they can have that requirement fulfilled using the normal channels in place to do the five-day antigen test.”
Mr D’Aguilar conceded the new US test requirement is another impediment to travel further affecting markets around the world.
He said people needed to look no further than our own country and the RIU resort which yesterday temporarily furloughed 85 percent of its workers.
He described the situation as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,”
“In order to maintain our numbers, we have what some people may consider onerous entry requirements. You have to get a visa, a COVID-19 test and there are other destinations out there which are easier to go to, like Mexico and Dominican Republic, which people see as easier places to visit so they are doing very robustly right now.
“I don’t think the Bahamian people are prepared to throw caution to the wind and try to compete with those countries by removing the entry requirements and face a possible spike.
“We are where we are because that is where we want to be.
“The demand given the fact that we just opened it will take a while for that to get out there given the fact that some travellers perceive our entry requirements in comparison to other more open countries to be onerous and now you are going to throw another layer on top of that ... All of that is going to dampen demand even more.
“Even if you’re in the US and taking an international trip you now have to – even if you didn’t get a PCR test go to that country – you now have to contemplate getting a rapid antigen test to come back. Even while it is relatively easy to get that I am sure a lot of countries will swoop into action to first of all build out that infrastructure because it is not only giving the test you have to give a print out of the results.
“It is going to dampen international demand out of the US, I feel, at the outset at least somewhat.
“So, it’s the long way of saying it will take a while for us to build back up the demand and I guess all of the hotels coming on stream at the same time – Atlantis on the 10th (of December 2020) and Baha Mar on the 17th, the Ocean Club, the Hilton, you’ve got the RIU and all of the hotels and all of these available rooms coming on stream. It’s probably created an oversupply based on the level of demand, so a lot of hotels are saying, if not shutter the hotel let’s shutter a wing or tower until it gets out there that the Bahamas is a safe place.
“We have a relatively low level of COVID-19 but we’ll always be navigating, so you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”