DEPUTY Prime Minister Chester Cooper.
Photo: Donovan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM, Investments and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper says the government will extend its vaccination policy for cruise ships seeking to enter a port in The Bahamas until next year.
The policy, which requires cruise passengers aged 12 and older to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, was initiated by the former Minnis administration.
The order said exceptions to the vaccination requirement will be made in cases of emergencies, “in other exigent circumstances approved by the government” or if a passenger has a medical excuse for not being vaccinated.
“Crew, contractors and any non-revenue passenger” under existing protocols previously agreed upon between the government and cruise lines also do not have to abide by the rule.
The order was outlined in the COVID-19 Emergency Orders and took effect September 3 until November 1.
Asked yesterday if the Davis administration was considering extending the rule, Mr Cooper replied in the affirmative.
He said officials wanted to extend the policy to provide tourists with much needed confidence to travel to The Bahamas in this current health climate.
“We are taking action to extend that until 2022,” Mr Cooper said before going to a Cabinet meeting. “We will be looking at it closely moving forward. We are actively in conversations with our various cruise partners. As you know we welcomed Virgin (Voyages) cruises last week, a new ship to our shores, but we believe vaccination is the right approach in order to be able to attract tourists to our shores in a balanced and responsible way.
“So we note that mostly, in the US market we see vaccinations in the high 60 and low 70 percent and we know that all of our cruise passengers who come naturally because of this rule of vaccinated, that’s good for The Bahamas. It’s good for the tourism industry and certainly as we extend this rule, we believe that this will help us even further to grow our tourism business in a balanced way.”
According to international reports, more than 187 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Here in The Bahamas, health officials said more than 115,000 people have been fully vaccinated, while more than 238,000 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
However, Mr Cooper said when compared to other regions, he believes the country’s rates for fully vaccinated people may be too low.
“I’m a little concerned that the numbers for fully vaccinated in The Bahamas seems to be tracking low, relatively low compared to the rest of the world,” he said. “We know that some countries in the region, like Jamaica, is slightly lower than we are but by and large we see many of the tourists in markets, persons in markets where our tourist comes from, their vaccination rates are general in the high 60s and early 70s so I think the best way to manage COVID is naturally through vaccinations and that’s been the science that supports it and certainly if we can cause this to happen into the near and medium term future, I believe this will be good for tourism and the country as a whole.”
Yesterday, Mr Cooper was also asked about the government plans to remove the travel health visa for international travel. The visa requirement was eliminated for inter-island travel last month.
“We are not yet at a point where we are minded eliminating the international element of the travel visa,” he said.
“We are monitoring it in a responsible way to determine the timeline of doing (it). We are doing some very exciting initiatives in terms of digitizing. There’s the question of whether the landing card is going to continue or whether that’s going to be replaced with some digital means so we’re looking at all of the possibilities at the moment.
“Suffice to say, we are not going to be loosened free in terms of the management of COVID itself. We know from the data that many persons who come to our shores test positive in the five-day test and we know that a large percentage of those persons who test positive are actually Bahamians so we want to continue the effective controls that the travel health visa system helps us to bring in terms of managing the incidences of positive cases coming to our country so until we have a mechanism to do that contract tracing and the follow up testing smoothly we are going to continue with the travel health visa on the international side.”