||Last Updated: Oct 31, 2020 - 6:43:34 PM
THE NATIONAL REPORT BY
THE MINISTER OF TOURISM & AVIATION
THE HON. DIONISIO D’AGUILAR
OCTOBER 31, 2020
I want to start my remarks this morning with a definitive statement.
Effective tomorrow, Sunday, November 1, 2020, The Bahamas will be removing the mandatory 14-day quarantine, as promised. Foreign visitors will be welcomed to our country, to stay at our hotels, to go to our beaches, to enjoy some of our world famous excursions and activities and, most importantly, to abide by our health and safety protocols.
As such, the Emergency Orders will be revised to reflect that change.
I repeat, effective tomorrow, Sunday, November 1, 2020, The Bahamas will be removing the mandatory 14-day quarantine, as promised. The Emergency Orders will be revised to reflect that change.
When we closed our borders back in March to protect against the coronavirus, never did we imagine that 7 months later the impact of the virus would remain so severe.
As a country, we have encountered much hardship from this deadly coronavirus. We have made many sacrifices, have faced huge financial hardship, endured ever increasing emotional and mental stress, have juggled roles and responsibilities, both personally and professionally, and have had to exponentially change our lifestyles. This has not been easy.
Sadly, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on global tourism. The latest data from the World Tourism Organization shows that international tourism is down a whopping 70%.
Put another way, if we used to get 7.2 million tourists a year, as we did just last year in 2019, the best we can expect right now is 2.2 million tourists a year – a reduction of a staggering 5 million tourists, assuming we all do our part to prevent, diminish and stop further community spread of this deadly virus by wearing our masks, social distancing and not congregating in groups, both large and small.
What’s more, the World Travel & Tourism Council just released new research indicating that 174 MILLION travel & tourism jobs could be lost in 2020 if global travel restrictions remain in place.
Here in The Bahamas, we are seeing and living this data firsthand. Tourism is the heart of our economy and accounts for 50 percent of our entire GDP and 65% of our employment. We must safely reopen and restart our tourism sector so that we, as a nation, can begin to recover.
I firmly believe that together, and with the support and participation from every single member of our community, we can move the needle from, survive to thrive. We’ve proven before that we can do this when faced with unthinkable circumstances, such as this pandemic. I have every confidence that we can do it once again. But it takes all of us! Every single one of us doing our part!
Even though we are here today to talk about a reopening, the facts on the ground are that our country has been open to international travel for many months now. Persons have always been free to leave The Bahamas without any restrictions, and a number of airlines, JetBlue, Air Canada, and more recently, American Airlines, have been bringing in travelers, mostly returning residents and citizens, using an extremely reduced schedule.
Late last month, the Ministry of Tourism started the process of contemplating how to jump start our tourism sector, given the near total shut down of the sector since mid-March.
This process was driven by necessity. With government revenues down by hundreds of millions of dollars, with tens of thousands of Bahamians out of work and suffering the indignity of not being able to support themselves and their families through employment in the tourism sector, the status quo is simply unacceptable.
And that status quo is the mandatory 14-day quarantine which made our destination extremely unattractive to prospective travelers. As you can imagine, nobody wants to vacation in a destination where you are restricted to a single hotel for your entire stay unless that hotel has significant facilities or is all inclusive, allowing you to Vacation in Place.
To remove the mandatory 14-day quarantine, the Ministry of Tourism engaged in lengthy consultations with the Ministry of Health. At first, we contemplated replacing the mandatory 14-day quarantine with a series of tests, namely, a Rapid Antigen test on arrival and a Rapid Antigen test five days after arrival, if the traveler was still in country at that time. As you can imagine, the logistics and complexities of rolling out any type of testing in a country with as many islands and, as a consequence, as many ports of entry as we have in The Bahamas, is no small undertaking.
As the Ministry of Tourism fleshed out that idea, of testing at the border and began to roll it out with the huge support of the Immigration Department, NAD, the Airport Authority, the Grand Bahama Airport Company, marina operators, local health care providers and other interested parties in the private sector, the guidance from the Ministry of Health changed.
The use of Rapid Antigen Tests as an effective screening tool at the border was not supported by the available research or, was not supported by the science.
As a result, effective tomorrow, November 1, 2020, there will be no tests conducted on arrival.
Travelers will enter The Bahamas, as they have always done, with their Bahamas Health Travel Visa and their accompanying PCR test, conducted within five (5) days prior to arrival, have their temperature checked at the airport and any other screening deemed necessary by the Public Health Officials and proceed to their final destinations in The Bahamas.
As there will no longer be any requirement to quarantine, there will be no requirement to enroll in the Hubbcat Monitoring System nor go through the time-consuming process of downloading that app.
Travel restrictions are having a detrimental effect on global tourism, as evidenced by the data I referenced earlier. The Ministry of Tourism has been working with our airline, hotel and other tourism partners to strike a balance between heeding the advice of the health professionals to protect the health and wellbeing of the country and developing protocols that make The Bahamas a more desirable destination for travelers in the era of COVID.
Whilst the policies themselves may have changed, the overarching mandate – to promote the health and safety of both Bahamians and visitors – has not.
The Ministry of Tourism, alongside a spirited partnership with the Ministry of Health, has left no stone unturned ahead of the November 1 reopening. Whereas past efforts to reopen have been constrained by strict, but necessary requirements, this new process is more comprehensive, more methodical, and more accommodating towards the shared vision of a healthy, safe reopening of the tourism industry. These new, streamlined entry protocols will additionally simplify travelling for both visitors and residents.
As of tomorrow, November 1, all persons entering The Bahamas must still obtain a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken no more than five days prior to the date of arrival.
Children ten years and under, as well as pilots and crew of commercial airlines who remain overnight in The Bahamas, continue to be exempted from this requirement.
Your negative PCR test results must then be uploaded in order to complete a Bahamas Health Travel Visa application, as well as be presented to Immigration upon arrival, for validation that the date of the test is within the five day requirement.
For these reasons, I would suggest that everyone entering The Bahamas print out a physical copy of one’s negative PCR test results, to prevent against technological issues arising during travel and not allowing you the ability to access the results online. Any person with test results outside of the five-day window will be denied entry into The Bahamas.
Once in possession of a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test, travelers can then apply for their Travel Health Visa at travel.gov.bs.
I would strongly encourage persons to apply immediately after receiving their negative test results, as the applications can take up to 48 hours to be manually reviewed and approved. This time may increase with the expected influx of visitors as our visitor numbers start to pick up again, so – plan accordingly!
The Bahamas Health Travel Visa has been in operation since June and we are, right now, in the process of upgrading that platform.
The Bahamas was one of the first countries in the Caribbean to require a Health Visa, and now every tourist-accepting country across the region requires one.
In addition to capturing your personal data and your PCR test results, the Health Visa will also be used as a tool to determine your current health status.
Health officials are always quick to say that, while testing is a vital tool in this fight against coronavirus, constant self-evaluation of one’s health status is an equally important tool to determine where our risks lie. The visa will have questions that the traveler will be expected to truthfully answer that will alert us to their current health condition and allow us to individually assess the risk each potential traveler poses on the health and safety of our islands -- not a replacement for, but rather a complement to, the required RT-PCR test – and an additional layer of protection in our complete defense against COVID-19.
As of tomorrow, November 1, travelers will be required to pay an application fee for their Travel Health Visa.
Additionally, as of November 14, all visitors to The Bahamas will be required to purchase COVID-19 health insurance before they come to The Bahamas.
The cost of this mandatory health insurance will be automatically included in the total cost of the Health Visa.
The inclusion of the travel health insurance is to ensure that any visitor who may test positive for the coronavirus while on vacation in The Bahamas or become ill from the virus, while in The Bahamas, will not suddenly become a burden on an already overburdened Bahamian public health system. This insurance is not intended for Bahamians, as they will be returning home and we expect them to avail themselves of our local health care providers and our local medical facilities in the usual manner.
I am pleased, therefore, to say that no visitor who tests positive will pose a strain on our own health care facilities. The influx of arriving passengers will not jeopardize the availability of health resources, hospital beds or COVID-19 testing capabilities for any Bahamian.
Atlantic Medical, now known as CG Atlantic, has been contracted to fulfill this new, mandatory requirement that each visitor coming to The Bahamas be in possession of specific COVID Travel Health Insurance.
In the case where a visitor tests positive, three comprehensive options are available to the visitor, none of which will burden our existing health infrastructure.
First, those who test positive but exhibit no symptoms (asymptomatic) can quarantine in place for up to 14 days. The insurance will cover the hotel costs of that quarantine.
Second, if a person tests positive, exhibits no symptoms (asymptomatic) but has a pre-existing medical condition, then they will have the option to be medically evacuated out of the country.
And third, if a person tests positive and exhibits symptoms, they will be immediately medically evacuated to their home country for medical purposes.
This policy will be in force throughout the entire Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
The costs of this insurance will be billed to the visitor through the introduction of a fee for the Travel Health Visa.
In fact, all costs associated with administering the health protocols of travelers entering the country will be recouped through this new fee for the Travel Health Visa.
Citizens and returning residents, alongside visitors staying up to four nights, will be charged $40.
Visitors staying more than four nights will be charged $60.
Children ten years and under will not be charged.
Given that the 14-day mandatory quarantine will be removed, visitors will no longer be required to ‘vacation in place’ for 14 days. Visitors will be able to move about and enjoy the amenities of their hotel, the beach, and excursions – so long as all health protocols are followed and enforced.
To ensure effective daily monitoring of symptoms, visitors will soon be required to complete a daily online health questionnaire that will be sent to them every day of their visit using the email provided when they applied for the Health Visa. This screening tool will involve a series of questions which, if answered truthfully, will allow an automatic assessment to be conducted and, if necessary, an immediate referral to screeners for further follow up and evaluation.
ANY visitor who displays COVID-19 symptoms during their stay, either through the self-reporting mechanism of a hotel, or through a Ministry of Health evaluation, will be required to take a Rapid Antigen Test and receive a negative result in order to continue with their vacation.
Those who test positive will be required to then take a RT-PCR swab test and, if they test positive with that, they will be handed over to Atlantic Medical to take advantage of one the three options already mentioned.
All visitors and returning citizens and residents staying in The Bahamas for longer than four nights will be required to take an additional rapid antigen test – a quick, easy procedure with results provided electronically via text message and e-mail within the hour. The cost of this test will be included in the cost of the health visa.
The location of where this test can be administered will be provided on the Bahamas Health Travel Visa website.
In Nassau, it will be any Doctors Hospital location. In the Family Islands, obviously, each island will have a different option.
When you receive your Bahamas Health Travel Visa, it will possess a QR code which is like a bar code. When you present for the 5-day test, that QR code will be scanned by the screener so that the results of your test can be properly uploaded to your account.
Naturally, we encourage everyone to take the 5-day test so that we can assess your status 5 days after entering The Bahamas. We also encourage you to take the test since you would have already paid for it and there may be a small fine if you do not.
I again remind all Bahamians that exhaustive procedures are in place for all travelers entering The Bahamas. Positive test results and any issues that arise in the online screening process will be reported to the Ministry of Health’s Surveillance team who will conduct additional surveillance investigations as per their own mandates.
The benefit of the technological platform of the Travel Health Visa is that the Surveillance Unit will be notified immediately of any positive test or any concern that arises from the screening tool.
This allows the on-island experience to remain practically unchanged. Face masks and appropriate physical distancing remain required whenever in public settings, and visitors are reminded to abide by all protocols as outlined in the most recent Emergency Powers Order.
The Ministry of Tourism strongly advises all visitors and returning residents to review the interactive “Know Before You Go” map on the Ministry of Tourism’s website, to determine what travel restrictions, if any, are currently in place on a particular island ahead of travel.
This new dashboard breaks our 700 islands into our now familiar sixteen different destinations.
In those sixteen (16) different island groupings, you will clearly see what you can and cannot do and what restrictions are in place.
Right now, restrictions exist for the Abacos, Grand Bahama, and New Providence. In regard to these three (3) islands that are under curfews and implementing greater public health restrictions, travelers will be required to follow the orders accordingly. In the case of curfew, those guests at hotels and resorts will be required to stay within the property grounds during curfew hours.
This dashboard will be updated accordingly as new Emergency Powers are announced.
The number one reason why foreign visitors come to The Bahamas is to go to the beach. So, it is vital that if we are to kick-start our tourism sector, get persons back to work in our hotels and other tourism related activities, that tourists be allowed to come to The Bahamas and go to the beach and go for a swim.
The Prime Minister announced earlier in the week, that beaches will now be open. Hotels that are adjacent to or connected to beaches will now be able to apply to the Competent Authority for an exemption to any restrictions to beach access that may be in place.
When our foreign visitors come to The Bahamas, there is also overwhelming interest in fishing, diving and other water-based excursions. As such, these water-based excursions, as well as water taxis, will be able resume operations, once they implement and abide by the necessary rigorous health protocols.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Our research reveals that there is significant pent up demand for a Caribbean vacation. We can tap into that demand if visitors have assurances that the rules governing their prospective vacation remain relatively stable. While we understand that we will be living with COVID for some time to come and there may be the need for changes, we must take the necessary steps to ensure that The Bahamas remains an attractive destination for persons to take a vacation. We must all seek to limit community spread, we must all seek to abide by the health protocols and we must ensure that, once in country, the visitor will be able to enjoy a relaxing, stress free holiday. After all, that is why they come here and, it is because of their decisions to come here, that proud Bahamians will be able to go back to work and feed their families.
I would like to commend both the Ministries of Tourism and Health for their efforts in creating, fine-tuning and then implementing this process that will see the safe re-opening of our tourism sector on November 1.
It has indeed proven a national undertaking.
I thank you for your time.
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