By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union's president yesterday said he was less pessimistic that many tourism "naysayers" over the potential fall-out from the Biden administration's planned traveller quarantine.
Wesley Ferguson told Tribune Business that a quarantine of anywhere between seven to 14 days would be difficult to enforce in the US as “Americans like their freedom", given the country's focus on safeguarding constitutional rights and civil liberties.
He said: “I tend to differ from the amount of naysayers because I will tell you that the average American is ready to travel. Who is to say how much control the US government will have over these people in order to quarantine them when they get back, because there is nothing in place in the United States to ensure that this is done effectively.”
Mr Ferguson said quarantine at home was the only way to enforce the Biden administration's goal, and suggested the measure can only remain in place for a short period of time because the US economy needs to “bounce back quickly”.
The Bahamas’ fragile tourism revival was dealt a potential crippling blow last Thursday after Mr Biden, on just his second day as president, signed an executive order that many interpreted as imposing a mandatory quarantine on all incoming travellers to the US - citizens and foreigners - even if they could produce a negative COVID-19 test.
“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,” President Biden said during a press conference the day after his inauguration.
“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 costs and time associated with such a quarantine period, which could last anywhere from seven to 14 days, are being viewed as a major deterrent and turn-off to Americans travelling to The Bahamas and elsewhere.
The relevant US government agencies now have 14 days to complete their assessment of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) January 12, 2021, order requiring all incoming travellers to the US to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of their trip.
Mr Biden’s executive order says this assessment will examine “the feasibility of implementing alternative and sufficiently protective public health measures, such as testing, self-quarantine and self-isolation on arrival, for travellers entering the US from countries where COVID-19 tests are inaccessible”.....
Several tourism operators have suggested to Tribune Business that the US quarantine plan may not apply to travellers returning from The Bahamas at all based on this language, arguing that it will only be used for persons coming from countries that lack the testing infrastructure this nation and its tourism industry have put in place.
Mr Ferguson, meanwhile, added: “The vaccine is also a help. It's a big a shot in the arm for America to get back to some normalcy. So I don't see this quarantining for when Americans return home to be something that they are going to hold on to for a long time.”
Nicholas Pinder, general manager of Born Free Fishing Charters, said of the US quarantine plans: “I don’t know what we can really do about the US quarantine. They have got to look out for the best interests of their country. We did the same thing.”
Suggesting The Bahamas is highly unlikely to secure an exemption from this policy, even as part of as Caribbean bloc, Mr Pinder added: “You can’t just exempt one place. I don’t see any difference in exempting us from any place else.”
Mr Pinder said he is trying to hold on for as long as he can, but ultimately will have to close down if tourism does not rebound. Alfredo Bridgewater, owner/operator of Coco Nutz, said of the US move: “I think it's going to further reduce the tourism industry. I just I know it's going to further reduce tourism or cripple it. It's going to affect the US market as well.”
Describing it as a “real blow”, Mr Bridgewater said he is looking into the possibility of alternative work in the meantime. His business offers an electric bicycle tour of parts of Grand Bahama and, while he relied primarily on cruise ship passengers, he did get a sizeable amount of business from Freeport's hotels.
Jaime Lewis, owner/operator of Islandz Tours, said the Biden administration has to “hash out” the details on the quarantine and did not want to speculate on the fall-out for the Bahamian tourism industry.