Bahamas announces new measures as COVID-19 cases spike after reopening border


Hubert Minnis

NASSAU, Bahamas  — The Bahamas Government has announced a series of new measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), after acknowledging the decision to reopen its borders on July 1 has led to a deterioration of the health situation in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) country.

Prime Minister D Hubert Minnis, in a nationwide broadcast on Sunday evening, said that his Administration has “consulted heavily” with health officials, and was taking “strong actions to save lives”.

He added: “I understand the frustration and the disappointment of many Bahamians and residents that may ensue as we re-implement certain restrictions, but as a country we have to do what is right and necessary. If we do not take these measures now, we will pay a higher and deadlier price later.”

He said as of Wednesday, international commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will “not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

“Bahamasair will cease outgoing flights to the United States of America, effective immediately. To accommodate visitors scheduled to leave after Wednesday, 22 July 2020, outgoing commercial flights will be permitted.

“However, I wish to advise that all travellers travelling domestically within The Bahamas are still required to complete an electronic Health Visa prior to departure at travel.gov.bs. Any airline or commercial sea vessel that permits a passenger to board without the required Health Visa will face a fine of US$500 per passenger who is not in compliance.”

He said as of Wednesday, international commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will “not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

“Bahamasair will cease outgoing flights to the United States of America, effective immediately. To accommodate visitors scheduled to leave after Wednesday, 22 July 2020, outgoing commercial flights will be permitted.

“However, I wish to advise that all travellers travelling domestically within The Bahamas are still required to complete an electronic Health Visa prior to departure at travel.gov.bs. Any airline or commercial sea vessel that permits a passenger to board without the required Health Visa will face a fine of US$500 per passenger who is not in compliance.”

Minnis said that private international flights and charters for Bahamians, residents and visitors will be permitted, and pleasure craft and yachts will be permitted also.

The Government said that all returning Bahamians, residents and visitors by air or sea from overseas will require a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test result from an accredited lab.

“You will be required to present your documents to immigration officials upon arrival,” Minnis said, noting “it shall be an offence for a person to submit a falsified result of a COVID-19 diagnostic test, or to undergo the test prior to his or her departure from The Bahamas and present the results of the test on his return to The Bahamas, as though the test had been carried out in another jurisdiction.

“Such persons are liable to a fine not exceeding US$2,000 or to two years’ imprisonment, or both. Additionally, where a person knows or reasonably believes that he is infected with the COVID-19 virus and causes another to be exposed or infected, that person commits an offence and upon summary conviction is liable to a fine not exceeding US$1,000 in respect of each person who has been exposed or infected.

“It shall be an offence for an airline or sea vessel to permit a passenger to board the vessel not wearing a face mask and without an approved travel health card from the Ministry of Health,” Minnis said.

Minnis also announced that on the advice of health officials and out of an “abundance of caution”, public and private beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, Rose Island, Athol Island and surrounding cays will be closed until further notice.

He said restaurants on those islands will also remain closed “until we are able to ensure that better social distancing can be practised and enforced”.

“A new curfew for Grand Bahama will be implemented from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am [local time] daily,” starting 20th of July, he said, adding also that all public and private beaches and parks will be closed until further notice.

“If we address the current increase in confirmed cases as quickly as possible, Grand Bahama can return to a greater sense of normalcy as soon as possible. Let us work together to get Grand Bahama back up and running as quickly as possible. I ask Grand Bahamians to work in a spirit of unity in the battle against COVID-19,” Minnis said.

He said that the number of deaths and confirmed cases continue to rise with the pandemic much worse in some countries and areas of the world, including countries frequented by Bahamians.

“In neighbouring countries, hospitals are overwhelmed and deaths are increasing. For some places it is unclear when or how they will get this virus under control. While there are countries that continue to make progress, such progress can be reversed because of what is happening in neighbouring and other countries.”

Minnis said that progress can also be reversed because of how citizens and residents within countries are ignoring health guidelines, adding “regrettably, the situation here at home has already deteriorated since we began the reopening of our domestic economy.

“It has deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders,” he said, noting that as of Sunday, the Ministry of Health has confirmed 15 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases to 153.

He said the Surveillance Unit is reporting 49 new cases since the borders were fully reopened, with 31 of those new cases recorded on the island of Grand Bahama.

“As I have said before, our battle with COVID-19 will last for some time. We are in a marathon, not a sprint. This is a marathon demanding discipline, endurance, demanding resilience and requiring determination.

“This is a marathon requiring agility, a quick change of course when necessary, and decisive action. Like other nations that responded well at the outset of the pandemic, The Bahamas is working through the same balancing act.

“We are trying to get Bahamians back to work and to promote economic activity, while also limiting the spread of the virus. We are trying to open parts of our economy and our society while promoting and requiring health measures to protect lives.”