By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM, Investments and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper said he doesn’t expect the nation’s tourism product to be seriously affected after the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention raised the country’s COVID-19 travel risk rating to level three due to increasing virus cases.
The latest CDC upgrade was announced in a press statement released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness yesterday. It was also reflected on the CDC’s website, last updated on Monday.
The reclassification came a little more than two weeks after the CDC increased the country’s rating from a level one to a level two - moderate risk - rating.
The Level 3 rating advises international travellers to be up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines before travelling.
It also warns that vaccinated travellers are still at risk for catching COVID-19 and spreading it and further recommends people, aged two and up, to wear proper masks while indoors.
Yesterday, Mr Cooper commented on the increased rating, calling it somewhat concerning.
He added that while the new change may have some “modest” impact on travel demand to the country, especially among US corporate agencies and event planning groups, he remained confident that bookings will remain strong.
“There is always a concern when we see an increasing number of COVID cases,” Mr Cooper said before going to a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
“I point out though that we have sixteen destinations. The majority of the cases that we see are in New Providence. There are still some islands of The Bahamas that’s absolutely COVID free and we send a message to the world that we’re a relatively safe place to travel.
“The CDC has increased its rating to a level three recently. This, of course, is (of) some concern and this is watched particularly by groups and event planners and corporates in the US. It should have a modest impact. If it gets to level four, it will have some impact on our overall arrival numbers.
“Right now, we are simply seeing what the rest of world is seeing. There’s a bit of a surge in COVID. People are absolutely fatigued by it and people are getting vaccinated. They are boosted and they are travelling nonetheless because at this stage in the game, people are really ready to move on and we’re seeing this materialise in our overall numbers.”
COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising in the country over the last several weeks, prompting concerns that the country could be in the fifth wave of the virus.
While officials have yet to confirm this, they have admitted that The Bahamas is facing a surge of new infections.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness said 52 new cases were reported in the country.
There were 694 cases still active with 12 people in hospital with the virus.
This comes as some businesses and hotel stakeholders continue to lobby for a relaxation of further restrictions.
Baha Mar President Graeme Davis recently told a local daily that he wanted the government to remove its COVID-19 testing requirement for people entering The Bahamas.
Asked if the government would consider this, Minister Cooper responded: “We listened to our stakeholders but we make decisions that’s in the best interest of the Bahamian people. We make decisions that balance what’s good for tourism and the economy with the public health and safety of the Bahamian people.”
As for potential tightening of COVID measures, the deputy prime minister maintained the government was satisfied with the country’s current protocols and said no additional changes will be made “until the science warrants us removing them.”
In the meantime, all Bahamians and residents are urged to continue following the recommended health measures and get vaccinated if they have not yet done so.
Booster shots are also available at local vaccination sites and appointments can be made online at vax.gov.bs. Walk-ins are also welcomed, according to the ministry.