NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As the borders to Grand Bahama closed yesterday amidst a surge in new COVID-19 cases, several flights entering and departing the island were delayed, turned around or deboarded.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced that Grand Bahama will be placed on a two-week lockdown and all international and domestic flights will be stopped, as the island becomes a new COVID-19 hotspot.
Health officials have confirmed 30 new infections on the island since Monday.
Western Air and Bahamasair flights both saw challenges just hours before the 6pm domestic closures took effect.
Rexy Rolle, vice-president of operations and general counsel of Western Air told Eyewitness News that around 4:30 pm, the airline was demanded by officials that “all flights cease abruptly”.
“We were told in Nassau that the aircraft which was on the runway to go to Freeport, needed to turn back,” Rolle said, in an email exchange.
“Also, the aircraft in Freeport could not return to Nassau.
Agriculture Minister Michael Pintard was among those passengers on Western Air’s 4.30pm flight into Freeport.
Pintard told Eyewitness News that he was returning to the island to be with his family and constituents during the lockdown and assist with the food security programs for residents in need.
“We were delayed for a considerable amount of time at the airport, on the tarmac, while we were trying to work through getting clearance,” Pintard said.
“We were able to get clearance and came into Freeport.”
The Marco City MP said that with the number of COVID-19 cases rising in Grand Bahama, he hopes the number of hospitalized cases can be contained given the lack of health capacity on the island.
Meanwhile, Tezel Lightbourne, a resident from New Providence, was among passengers in Grand Bahama whose flight was canceled just before the plane took off.
Lightbourne, who works with an NGO on Grand Bahama, said she booked her flight on Monday, before the prime minister’s announcement.
She said she hasn’t seen her family since March and is eager to return home now that her contract was nearing completion.
She said when she arrived at the airport around 3.30pm she met long lines of people trying to check-in, though everyone seemed to keep their distance.
Lightbourne said passengers were allowed onto the tarmac to start boarding around 4.45pm, and soon after the flight safety demonstration was conducted.
She said the plane had already started to move when there was an announcement from the pilot.
Passengers were advised that the flight would have to be canceled due to instructions from Air Traffic Control.
By 5.04pm, some had reportedly already disembarked the plane.
“People were frustrated because the common thing that everyone said was, it’s only 5:00 o’clock”, Lightbourne said.
She furthered that while she understood the need to contain the possible spread on Grand Bahama, she fears that the lockdown may be longer than two weeks.
She noted that residents on the island have not been strictly adhering to public protocols from mask-wearing and social distancing.
Over at Bahamasair, Eyewitness News spoke to passengers onboard the airline’s 4pm flight into Grand Bahama.
Those passengers claim they were turned around mid-flight and had to return to Nassau.
Bahamasair CEO Tracy Cooper confirmed that the flight had been delayed on the tarmac as officials tried to work out some “minor details”.
That flight was eventually able to land at its destination after 6pm.
The lockdown on Grand Bahama will take effect Thursday, July 23, at 7pm until August 7 at 5am.
A complete lockdown will be in effect on Saturdays and Sundays.
As of today, there were 194 cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas — 107 cases in New Providence, 69 in Grand Bahama, 15 in Bimini, two is Cat Island, and one confirmed case in Cat Cay.