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500-plus wait to return home

The Nassau Guardian May 14, 2020

While the government has placed on hold return flights of Bahamian citizens and residents, more than 500 people in two U.S. states are seeking to get back to The Bahamas.

More than 300 people have advised the consulate in Miami that they want to return and more than 200 have registered with the Atlanta consulate.

But it is unclear when Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis will give the green light for these flights to resume.

Minnis said on Sunday he was advised by health officials to temporarily suspend return flights pending the investigation into a matter involving a Grand Bahama man who tested positive for COVID-19, but flew home on Friday.

Health officials reported on Tuesday that the man has since tested negative for COVID-19. The Nassau Guardian understands that the man tested positive in Florida on April 29.

The prime minister has said the flights will resume “as soon as health officials advise”.

The country’s borders were closed on March 27, as the government sought to contain the spread of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

It is unclear how many citizens and residents in other states are seeking to return.

On Friday, 183 individuals were brought home on two Bahamasair flights out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Many Bahamians are hoping the government moves speedily to resume return flights.

Glen Rolle, 35, has been stuck in New Jersey since the borders closed.

“My funds are depleting,” Rolle told The Nassau Guardian.

“I would even say almost totally depleted.”

He said he has enough money to last another three weeks.

“Luckily, before the country was shut down, the day of the shutdown, I called the airline and arranged a cancelation with them, where they would honor my ticket whenever the border opens,” Rolle said.

“My hands are tied right now, so, all I can do now is wait and see if the government would start the repatriation flights again or they will open the borders. But, that’s all I can do. All I can do is sit back and wait.”

 Rolle said he is “confused about what’s going on” as it relates to the man who traveled back to Grand Bahama.

“Hearing about the situation, it left me confused because you have a lot of Bahamian people still here, still trying to figure out what’s going on,” he told The Guardian.

“We basically [have] to just wait for the prime minister every Sunday or when he gives the updates to be telling us information.”

On May 8, the prime minister issued the Emergency Powers (COVID-19) (No. 3) Order, 2020.

Bahamian citizens and residents will be permitted entry into The Bahamas “by international air travel to New Providence or Grand Bahama”.

Those individuals will have to undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning home or upon arrival in The Bahamas, according to the order.

They will also be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Rolle said he is happy that the borders are reopened for returning citizens and residents.

However, with major commercial airlines not currently flying to The Bahamas, he said, “It’s still relatively not opened to the Bahamian people.”

“Everybody doesn’t have access or can’t get access to a private jet or a private plane or charter,” Rolle said.

“So, it’s still restricted to some people; for example, me. We don’t have the resources to do that, so, we still [are going to] have to depend on the commercial flights.”

Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) Director General Captain Charles Beneby said yesterday the government is having “ongoing” discussions about using major international airlines to bring Bahamians and residents home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are still discussing it with the airlines but we certainly want to make it possible for as many Bahamians and lawful residents — that are desiring to return to the country — to return,” he told The Guardian.

“A fairly significant” number of Bahamian citizens and residents who are stuck in countries around the world will be afforded the opportunity to return home, according to Beneby.

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