By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The deputy prime minister yesterday said the cruise ship passenger COVID-19 vaccination policy will be extended into 2022.
Chester Cooper, minster for tourism, investments and aviation, speaking ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said the requirement that all passengers aged 12 years and older be fully vaccinated before they embark on a cruise will be extended beyond its November 1, 2021, expiration.
He said: “We are taking action to extend that to 2022. We will be looking at it closely moving forward. We’re actively in conversations with various cruise partners.
“As you know, we’ve welcomed Virgin 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, responsible way.”
The cruise industry provisions, contained in the Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Pandemic) (Management and Recovery( (No.2) (Amendment) (No.8) Order 2021, which came into effect on August 19, were to last from September 3 to November 1, 2021.
These prohibited cruise ships from calling in Nassau, Freeport and other Bahamian islands - including the lines’ private islands - unless all passengers aged 12 years old and older were fully vaccinated before they embarked the vessel at its original port of departure. Cruise ships also have to submit a health manifest on all passengers and crew before arriving in port, and comply with measures previously agreed with the Government.
Mr Cooper added: “So we note that, mostly in the US market, we see vaccinations in the high 60 percent, low 70 percent, and we know that all of our cruise passengers who come naturally because of this rule are 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. I’m a little concerned that the numbers for fully vaccinated persons in The Bahamas seem to be tracking low relative to the rest of the world.”
The Ministry of Health said that more than 115,000 people in The Bahamas are fully vaccinated, with 238,512 doses of the various COVID-19 vaccines administered.
Major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have updated their travel and health protocols by mandating all guests age two and older — regardless of their vaccination status or the length of their cruise — will need to take a COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) with an accredited test provider no more than three days before arriving at the port and show their negative test result.
Noting that vaccination rates in some countries in the Caribbean are lower than that for The Bahamas, Mr Cooper added: “By and large, we see many of the persons in markets where our tourists come from. Their vaccination rates are generally in the high sixties and early seventies [percents].
“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 good for our country.”
Mr Cooper also reaffirmed earlier statements that the health travel visa for international travellers will remain in place for the foreseeable future, but the Government is “monitoring it in a responsible way to determine the timeline” for bringing it to an end.