In a stunning announcement on Sunday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that the Bahamas was rolling back on its decision to allow international visitors as the country faces deteriorating COVID-19 conditions.
The Bahamas only reopened its borders three weeks ago on July 1st. However, the country has seen conditions worsen during that time. According to Minnis, the situation has deteriorated “at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders”. The country has reported 49 new cases since the borders fully opened.
In order to slow down the spread, starting Wednesday, July 22nd, only visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union will be allowed to enter. This means that U.S. visitors are now banned from the country, which is not surprising given the high number of case numbers in the nation. Florida, which is a major hub for visitors traveling to the Bahamas is one of the most impacted states.
Outgoing flights will still be permitted to accommodate any current visitor’s schedules returning to the U.S. However, starting Wednesday commercial flight and vessels carrying passengers will no longer be allowed to enter.
The Bahamas will still continue to allow private flights and charters from the U.S., including pleasure crafts and yachts. All visitors though will be required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test from an approved lab taken no more than 10 days prior to the date of travel.
“These restrictions have been put in place to protect the health and wellbeing of both residents and visitors, which remains of primary importance, and to prevent the spread of the virus throughout The Bahamas.”
“The Bahamas is reviewing and being guided by the most effective practices from around the world,” the Ministry of Tourism said in a statement. “Reopening of borders will continue to be monitored and guided by The Bahamas government ad health officials, based on COVID-19 trends.”
Minnis seemed to blame the increase in cases on how other countries are handling the pandemic, although he didn’t name any specifically.
“In neighboring countries, hospitals are overwhelmed and deaths are increasing. For some places it is unclear when or how they will get this virus under control,” said Minnis. He added that his country’s progress in fighting the disease can be reversed because of how citizens in other countries “are following or ignoring health guidelines.”
“Our current situation demands decisive action, if we are to avoid being overrun and defeated by this virus,” Minnis said. “We cannot allow our hospitals to be overrun. Many priorities must be balanced, be they health, social and economic. Chief amongst these though is the health.”
It is not surprising to see the U.S. omitted from the list of approved countries given the rising case numbers. Many tourists were also critical of the negative test result timeline. Getting results in a timely fashion has proven difficult in the U.S.
In addition to restricting visitors, the Prime Minister also announced a few other changes to protect the health of the country. Public and private beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, Rose Island, and Athol Island and surrounding cays are now closed. Restaurants on Arawak Cay and Potter’s Cay are also closed.
On Grand Bahamas, a new curfew between 7 pm and 5 am is starting. Beaches and parks on the island are also closing, as well as ferry boat operations. Indoor dining is closing, although outdoor dining and curbside pick-up will be permitted. All bars must remain closed. There will also be stricter enforcements of social distancing and mask-wearing.
The new restrictions are bad news for visitors that had recently reschedule their trips. No doubt many will be upset that they once again have to cancel. However, given the medical limitations in the country, especially in the Family Islands such as Exuma, it makes sense. Hopefully, the pandemic subsides soon and visitors from all over the country can safely visit again.