By Earyel Bowleg
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM, Investments and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper said that a change to the requirement for unvaccinated travellers to be tested for COVID-19 is not being considered at present.
Mr Cooper commented after the removal of the testing requirement for people who are vaccinated, and the scrapping of the travel health visa. He said he thinks the current requirements are consistent with international standards and the government is going to continue to require testing for unvaccinated people.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville announced last Wednesday the removal of the requirement for vaccinated people entering The Bahamas to be tested. Before that, Mr Cooper had revealed the end of the travel health visa. Both changes took place on Sunday.
Yesterday, before the weekly Cabinet meeting, Mr Cooper said: “There’s no consideration for changing the requirement for unvaccinated travellers at the moment. Our government’s policy is that we recommend vaccination. We’re asking the Bahamian public to consider vaccination to speak with their doctors to determine whether it’s appropriate for them to be vaccinated.
“We’re at around 50 percent vaccination in The Bahamas. We hope that this number will increase and certainly we want to encourage vaccinated travellers to come to our country. This is why we’ve eliminated the requirement and certainly if we are encouraging Bahamians to vaccinate we would want that to be also the case for tourists coming to our shores.”
The government has repeatedly encouraged people to get the jab citing the benefits of being vaccinated. When asked if the position for the unvaccinated travellers was discriminatory, Mr Cooper said: “I think our requirements are consistent, they’re consistent with international standards and we’re going to continue along this path of requiring testing for persons who are not vaccinated. This is in line with the science. It’s in line with international best practice and we don’t particularly want to be outliers on this issue.
“We have to protect the health and safety of our guests and the health and safety of our residents and we want to ensure that if our guests become ill the chance of serious illness is reduced. We are managing the capacity at our hospital, for example, and we want to ensure that, as the science suggests, that if one of them would get COVID that the likelihood of serious illness is diminished.”
Mr Cooper said there had been a positive response to the removal of testing for vaccinated travellers so far.
He said: “My information is the airlines welcome this decision. Certainly the travellers welcome this decision - a hassle-free process for residents and our tourists to come to our shores. It’s going exceptionally well. This, of course, is only day two since we’ve lifted these requirements and I expect over the next few couple of days there might be some teething issues where communication may not have been filtered to the front desk at an airport for example - but so far so good.”