NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday acknowledged that the reopening of the country’s borders to international travelers had gotten off to a ‘bumpy” start.
An estimated 100 travelers were denied entry within the first week as they did not have the proper COVID-19 test, he said.
Still, D’Aguilar told Eyewitness News he was confident the country would get into its groove in short order and certainly have the ‘right formula’ in place by the time Atlantis reopens later this month.
“It’s been a journey and the journey commenced on July 1,” he said.
“Obviously as we opened up the border the question was how best to screen those coming into the country. We started initially with the strategy that we would have everyone apply for a Bahamas health Visa and that would basically be the gateway that we would use to screen persons prior to their arrival at the destination.
D’Aguilar continued: “This is new for us. We thought that we would in essence try to make the process as simple as possible by informing persons of the need for a COVID-19 test and the Visa and then allow people to come in hoping they would have gotten the right test prior to their arrival.
“Within the first four to five days we identified that a lot of people were turning up with the incorrect test and that led to the unacceptably high level of refusals. We estimate in the first week or so it was about 100 persons. What we did was we changed strategies.
“Now when people apply, before we green light them coming into the country and issue the health Visa we take the time to look at every COVID-19 test to ensure that it’s the right test, within the required 10 days before they arrive and it shows negative,” he said.
“We want to believe that everyone had a PCR test and not a rapid anti-body or antigen test which is not acceptable at this time.”
D’Aguilar said that while there have been some “glitches and bumps in the road” it is very important for travelers to obtain the proper test before they enter the country.
“Some countries have taken the approach of checking people on arrival,” he said.
“We prefer at this time not to do that. If someone comes here and tests positives that would present a whole different conundrum.”
D’Aguilar also noted that potential visitors must receive the right information regarding entry requirements and that all the relevant government agencies must be in alignment.
“You always have to make sure all agencies of government are aligned,” he said.
“Tourism, Customs and Immigration, all have to be aligned with what you are doing. It was bumpy out the gate but I am confident we will get into our groove in short order. Slowly people are coming back. It’s a tiny portion of what we used to have.
D’Aguilar added: “Obviously people are apprehensive about travel. I think the family islands are well set up for the concept of social distancing but we have to get the formula right for Nassau and so when Atlantis comes on stream we are ready to roll.”