NOT WORTH THE RISK: Tourism minister urges Bahamians to abide by COVID regulations

NOT WORTH THE RISK: Tourism minister urges Bahamians to abide by COVID regulations
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D'Aguilar. (BIS PHOTO/KEMUEL STUBBS)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday urged Bahamians to be honest and fair in regards to their COVID tests.

D’Aguilar’s comments came after several people were arrested and charged for possessing and uttering falsified coronavirus tests while attempting to travel to the Family Islands from New Providence.

Speaking to reporters outside Cabinet, the tourism minister said there are currently no plans to implement any additional enforcement tools to identify counterfeit tests.

He noted that COVID ambassadors have become familiar with authentic and fake tests after scanning them every day and can determine the difference.

He insisted that the penalties for breaching the emergency order are so “substantial” that it is simply “not worth the risks”.

“Not only is it irresponsible and disappointing that you take those measures, [but] they are [implemented] for a reason — to prevent community spread,” D’Aguilar added.

“Please abide by the rules and not try to deviate from them. That is why we are probably, to a certain degree, having some uptick in our COVID numbers.”

According to the latest emergency orders, an RT-PCR test, taken no more than five days from the day of travel, is required for travel to the Family Islands.

However, arguments have been consistently made that the government should provide free testing or change the requirement for domestic travel to an antigen test, which is less expensive.

The tourism minister said while he agrees that the cost of the COVID test is a challenge for some Bahamians, the decision was made to protect the Outer Islands from further exposure to the virus.

“It is absolutely critical that we prevent as best as we can any growth in COVID cases in the Family Islands because the health facilities just do not exist to provide adequate care,” D’Aguilar said.

“So, the government is taking the advice that they are provided in order to prevent it.

“I know it’s costly. I know it’s annoying. I know that everybody is fatigued, but we can’t allow for an uptick to happen.”

Health officials have signaled that a recent uptick of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations could be the onset of a third wave of the virus in The Bahamas.

D’Aguilar insisted that Bahamians must continue to abide by the rules to ensure that that does not happen.

“We are seeing possibly the commencement of a third wave and so it’s absolutely, vitally critical that we all take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that we don’t have this third wave,” he said.

“And while I understand, to a certain degree, a number of Bahamians are clamoring for enforcement, we also need to, as a people, ensure that we abide by the rules.”

Pointing to the photos and videos that circulated over the weekend of individuals gathering at a beach in Nassau, D’Aguilar insisted that the country must double down on its mitigation efforts against possible community spread.

“It would be extremely troubling to the rebounding and the restarting of our tourism economy if that were to happen,” he said.

“All I can do is appeal to Bahamians to abide by the health protocols.

“The enforcers of the health protocol are doing the best that they can, but if there is widespread disregard for the protocols, no matter how many police you put on the ground, it’s going to be too difficult to keep it under control.

“So, there has to be the will and the want and some enforcement.”