Govt to update health visa to expand COVID-19 testing options for travelers

Govt to update health visa to expand COVID-19 testing options for travelers
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D'Aguilar.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that his ministry is moving to update its health visa protocols amidst the United States’ new travel regime.

The new measure will expand on the requirements announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for international travelers to first test negative for COVID-19 before traveling into the country.

That policy commenced on January 26, along with CDC protocols that require seven days’ quarantine upon return to the United States.

In an interview with Eyewitness News, D’Aguilar said the government remains in talks with the country to exempt The Bahamas and other English-speaking Caribbean countries from the travel protocols.

“It’s a function of talking to as many people as possible, so that whenever they are in the room with the decision-makers, that our position gets put forward,” he said.

“We are speaking to former US ambassadors, we are speaking to parliamentarians in the United States who have a love and affinity for The Bahamas.

“We are trying [as] best as possible to influence the outcome of the decision.

“The decision hasn’t been made yet and I always feel it’s better to influence an outcome rather [than] change a decision once it has been made.”

D’Aguilar insisted that The Bahamas and the English-speaking Caribbean have very small populations and their levels of COVID present little risk to the United States.

“So, by providing us with a carve-out, we feel that it would significantly help us and provide little risk to the United States,” he said.

The tourism minister noted, however, that if those talks do not succeed, The Bahamas’ health infrastructure would still be able to support the testing requirements.

He said the government’s rollout of its antigen testing on November 1, 2020 has created a network of 80 private and testing facilities that would be sufficient, along with plans for major hotels to begin testing on property.

Atlantis, Baha Mar and Sandals have announced in recent days that they will be providing antigen testing for guests. 

“Some of [the hotels] are saying: ‘Just charge every visitor for a rapid antigen test and we’ll provide it on property,’ and then [travelers] are assured that at least their concerns are mitigated that when they apply for a heath visa, when they apply to come to The Bahamas, they don’t have to worry about ‘where am I going to get this test and how am I going to get a printout so I can present it to the airline when I check-in.'”

D’Aguilar explained that in order to facilitate this new need, the ministry will expand its offering on its website to allow travelers to opt in or out of the test.

“Even if you take the [day-five] test for The Bahamas, that gives you until the eighth day to return to the US because the US says you’ll have to have an antigen test within 72 hours of arrival,” he added.

“If you’re coming for any time before the fifth and the eighth day, it’s included, but beyond the eighth day you have to go and acquire another test or you can buy it on our website.” 

About Sloan Smith Sloan has spent the past four years as a lead news writer immersed in the field, covering a range of investigative breaking news developments. She produces daily salient pieces on natural disasters, crime, politics, policy, human-interest, and socioeconomic realities.