By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Cat Island and Long Island resorts have branded the government’s decision not to have COVID-19 testing at their ports of entry a “major oversight”.
Carl Rolle, general manager of Rollezz Villas Beach Resort on Cat Island, told Tribune Business: “I think we have the correct professional people out here to do that quick test. It is just like taking your blood pressure, so I don’t see why we are overlooked, but we are trying to address that situation because for the way forward, if you don’t have that, it is going to be a problem.”
“We want to keep the place safe, but it’s a difficult task. The thing is if you do it in the correct way it will be for the long-term and not the short-term. I believe that if you take the correct action, the Bahamian people will be happy and blessed by it. But if you just try to show immediate results, and then have to come back and repeat your actions, it is not a good thing.”
Matthew Brear, general manager of Cape Santa Maria Resort on Long Island, added that the island’s tourism, hospitality and resort sectors were working with their MP, Adrian Gibson, to address its non-inclusion among the ports of entry where tourists will receive rapid COVID-19 antigen tests upon arrival.
“We’re working with our MP on this currently,” Mr Brear said. “Again, we opened and ran successfully for almost the entire month of July with no quarantine, but still adhering to all safety protocols as outlined by health officials.
“There were zero issues with no quarantine. I think people may be forgetting that the cases spiked primarily as a result of the local population flocking to Florida at the spike of that particular state’s first wave. Tourism was not the primary cause of the current COVID situation within The Bahamas. We have got plenty of reservations today, though, for the coming months as a result of the last announcement.”
The Ministry of Tourism, in long-flagged changes, revealed late last Thursday that it has switched the 14-day quarantine that forced visitors to remain in place - either at a hotel, on a boat or some other accommodation - for increased rapid antigen once they arrive in The Bahamas and during their stay.
Besides removing the “Vacation in Place” quarantine beginning on November 1, which coincides with the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday and winter tourism season, The Bahamas has sought to further incentivise travel by increasing the time given to visitors to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test before they travel from the present five days to seven days.
While this test, detailing the result plus name and address of the laboratory involved, will still be required along with The Bahamas Health Travel Visa, visitors will now undergo a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at specified air and sea ports of entry when they arrive in The Bahamas.
And tourists staying in The Bahamas for longer than four nights and five days will be required to take a second COVID-19 antigen test. This allows short-stay visitors to avoid a second test, with the cost of these tests - which can produce results in 20 minutes or less - included in the health visa.
The government, though, has identified only specific airports and seaports where COVID-19 antigen tests will be available. No locations were provided in the southern Bahamas, with the likes of San Salvador, Cat Island and Long Island excluded from the list. Nassau; Freeport; Marsh Harbour; North Eleuthera; Georgetown (Exuma); Bimini (and Cat Cay); and San Andros are the approved airports.
As for seaports and marinas, the selected venues are Nassau (Atlantis, Bay Street Marina, Lyford Cay and Albany); Grand Bahama (West End – Old Bahama Bay and Freeport – Lucaya); Abaco (Marsh Harbour government dock); Eleuthera (Spanish Wells marina); Berry Islands (Chubb Cay Club); Bimini (Big Game Club and Cat Cay Club); Exuma (Georgetown government dock).
It is likely that the Government, with scarce technical, financial and human resources, is testing the new COVID-19 health protocols at its busiest ports of entry before rolling the initiative out to other islands. The thinking is also likely to be that many stopover visitors headed to the likes of Cat Island and Long Island will transit through Nassau first, and thus take their on-arrival test there.
However, that could create complications for long-stay visitors remaining in The Bahamas beyond four days/five nights or 96 hours, as they will be required to take another COVID-19 antigen test.
Aton Mackey, general manager of Cat Island’s Hawks Nest Resort and Marina, said: “Right now we’re closed. The resort is closed, so I haven’t really been following a lot because I have been busy with maintenance and preparation for re-opening. The marina is always open, but it is just that the hotel and the restaurant is closed.”
He added of the 14-day quarantine’s elimination come November 1: “That’s a good thing. That means we can have some traffic come through here because we’re hurting. We expect to open right before Thanksgiving. I had people call and they were talking about the quarantine period, so now that that’s lifted I’m going to get some traffic here.”