Over 5,000 applicants per day
Some travelers report being stranded in the US as they seek to return home today
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said today that the government has had to adjust its manpower and approvals process to handle an “absolute explosion” in health visa applications, noting “we’re up to over 5,000 applications a day”.
Speaking with reporters ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting, D’Aguilar said that the government has had to reduce the time frame in which to apply for a health visa to 14 days in light of the fact that fully vaccinated travelers can now apply for a health visa months in advance as opposed to the five-day window with an RT-PCR COVID test.
“Most of our foreign visitors are coming from the United States — in excess of 90 percent,” he said.
“Most of those travelers have a card from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that shows the type of vaccine and the date that both doses were applied.
“It’s fairly straightforward for us to see when the vaccine was given and what type of vaccine was given.
“We only accept AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer as well as Johnson and Johnson.
“We have seen an absolute explosion in the number of people that are applying.”
He continued: “As you can imagine, when you had the PCR test, people could only apply within five days of travel.
“Now, when you have a vaccine, you can apply months in advance and that somewhat overloaded the website at the outset.
“We have had to bring it back down to where you can only apply to within 14 days of travel.
“We are up to over 5,000 applications a day.”
Eyewitness News understands numerous Bahamians seeking to return home today were awaiting approval of their health visas.
D’Aguilar said the application surge was very encouraging, but said officials must synthesize and go through all the applications.
“Everyone has grown to expect us to respond in 24 hours,” the minister noted.
“That has slipped with the greater demand and so we are having to adjust our manpower and approvals process to accommodate this surge in applications.”
At the end of April, the government announced updated public health measures and entry protocols for fully vaccinated travelers.
Bahamian citizens and residents who are fully vaccinated are now exempt from COVID-19 testing requirements when traveling inter-island from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera to any other island.
Also, effective May 1, international visitors traveling to The Bahamas from other countries, who are fully vaccinated and have passed the two-week immunity period, will be exempted from testing requirements for entry and inter-island travel.
D’Aguilar admitted his concerns over the hesitancy of many Bahamians to become vaccinated and aid in the country’s economic revival.
The Bahamas has administered more than 36,000 vaccine doses to date.
“I’m all in with the vaccine,” he said.
“I think the benefits far outweigh the risks.
“I think that if you take the vaccine, there is a huge probability that you will not end up sick and have an unfortunate outcome.
“Most importantly, when you get the vaccine, it significantly reduces your ability to spread the virus to someone else.
“If you’re in the tourism sector or a frontline environment where you can get exposed, you don’t want to take it home to someone who hasn’t been vaccinated and cause them to have an unfortunate outcome.
“I think it’s very important that, for our economy to bounce back and for tourism to flourish and grow, that our destination has to record low levels of COVID-19.”