By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association's (BHTA) president has voiced optimism that this nation's five-day COVID testing system has put it "ahead of the curve" to meet new US requirements.
Robert Sands, in a statement, said The Bahamas' requirement that all visitors staying longer than four nights take a rapid antigen test had left this nation well-placed to meet the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) mandate that all returning travellers must present a negative COVID test taken within three days of their trip to gain admission to the US.
While president Joe Biden's quarantine announcement last week represents a potential new, and separate, obstacle to international travel, Mr Sands said the nationwide roll-out of rapid antigen testing infrastructure had at least put the Bahamas in position to deal with testing measures that take effect as of tomorrow.
"The new viral COVID cross-border testing protocols for travel to the US, which includes the rapid antigen test, is less of a barrier to entry for persons returning from The Bahamas, as the COVID testing and reporting infrastructure has been in place in The Bahamas for some time now due to the fact we had to ready ourselves to accommodate our own entry requirements," Mr Sands said.
While acknowledging that the testing roll-out requires more work on remote Family Islands, Mr Sands added: “The collaborative efforts of the private and public sector; tourism stakeholders such as the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), partner promotion boards and associations, the Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Health, the Office of The Prime Minister/The Competent Authority; the efforts of varying participants of private and public sector-led committees; The Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee (TRRC), the National Co-ordination Committee on COVID-19 (NCCC), the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), have set a framework for the sustained revival of our number one industry.
"This includes the ability to ensure our visitors have easy access to the requisite tests for re-entry into the United States of America, our key source market. Our requirement for a five-day antigen test has set the stage for the destination to ensure guests can comply with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order issued on January 12, 2021, requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours in advance of departure for US for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the US, which will go into effective on January 26, 2021.”
Mr Sands continued: “We are pleased to say it is our firm belief that The Bahamas is ahead of the curve in its efforts to fight this unforeseen and unseen foe. While our efforts may have impacted the immediacy of our recovery process, we recognise that steady, sure and smart is key to our ability to provide our guests, and ourselves, with a safe, pleasurable, health-conscious eco-system, where visitors and locals can enjoy Bahamian sun, sea and sand, culture and cuisine, in a safe and healthy environment.
"Furthermore, we note and support those private and public sector entities who have pivoted to respond to varying governments COVID mitigation efforts, which have seen border restrictions strengthened and internal policies implemented which could thwart some visitors' appetite for travel.”
Mr Sands spoke as Atlantis confirmed it will offer guests returning to the US "complimentary" COVID-19 rapid antigen testing, which will be conducted by clinical technicians and registered nurses at the resort's Beach and Royal Towers. Test results will be available within 30 minutes, and guests will be able to present the relevant documents at the airport for their journey home.
Guests can schedule their departure test as soon as they check-in with Atlantis’ onsite testing co-ordinator or online. For countries that require a COVID-19 RT-PCR test for re-entry, testing is available on-site at Atlantis and costs $165. Atlantis thus joins Baha Mar and Sandals in offering guests on-site rapid antigen testing to ensure they can meet US border requirements.
The BHTA, in its statement, said many hospitality businesses in The Bahamas have “gone beyond” what is required, noting that some restaurants are providing guests with on-site rapid antigen tests .