DEVASTATING. That’s the word Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar uses to describe the introduction of a quarantine requirement for people arriving in the United States.
“In light of the new COVID variants that you’re learning about, we’re instituting now a new measure for individuals flying into the United States from other countries,” said President Biden yesterday. “In addition to wearing masks, everyone flying to the United States from another country will need to test before they get on that plane, before they depart, and quarantine when they arrive in America.”
The details of the policy and when it will be introduced have yet to be clarified, but it’s a hammer blow to hopes of restarting tourism. How many people are going to come to The Bahamas if they face a compulsory quarantine when they fly back to the United States?
It’s the worst possible news for tourism in our country.
There are reasons for the US clampdown, of course. It’s the sign of a new administration looking to turn things around after a previous administration that let things slide and presided over more than 400,000 deaths.
It is the internal spread of the virus that the US is currently wrestling with. In Los Angeles, things were so bad that air quality limits had to be lifted because of the number of cremations for COVID-19 victims.
There may be reasons, but that doesn’t help us as we look to rebuild after living up to our end of the effort to curtail COVID. Despite our efforts, the US lists us with a Level 4 CDC Travel Notice, putting us in the higher risk categories for travelling from.
Mr D’Aguilar wants the US to give the English-speaking Caribbean countries a pass when it comes to the new rules – but there’s far from any guarantee that will happen.
Instead, we face the prospect of hotels reassessing whether they should keep their doors open if tourism is about to fall off a cliff again, and the possibility of more staff on furlough as we wait for the US to deal with its own COVID downfalls.
The damage to our economy, already seemingly incalculable, is going to keep going on, a price paid in jobs and livelihoods and businesses closing their doors for good.
Amid it all is a glimmer of a solution – and it’s those PCR tests and the next evolution of testing for COVID being tested around the world by Prenetics - something our own government seems stubbornly reluctant to embrace.
With a strong testing regime in place, there is far less likelihood of a traveller moving with the virus than people catching it within their communities. These US rules are as much about stopping variants of the virus, such as the one ravaging the UK right now, as the original virus itself. We, thankfully, have not seen any sign of that new virus yet as far as we can tell. Why? Well, that testing requirement might be part of it.
If the testing is enough to do the job, then the quarantine might be unneeded. That’s what we need to drive home to the US, then live up to our end of the deal here.
To do that, we have some distance to go. The failure to test around half of visitors with the five-day test does nothing to show our discipline, and we need to fix that, not shrug it off as Health Minister Renward Wells has so far.
Make no mistake, this is a huge blow for our tourism industry. The US has a long way to go to fight back against COVID. We have to show to the best of our ability that we are not part of the problem, but that our experience can be part of the solution.