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Govt scraps COVID testing on arrival

The Nassau Guardian Nov 3rd, 2020 Jasper Ward

Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar

The government has scrapped its plan to conduct rapid antigen COVID-19 testing of individuals upon arrival in The Bahamas, and will instead require that they be tested five days after arrival if they are still in the country, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar announced on Saturday. Everyone traveling to The Bahamas will still be required to have a negative RT-PCR test — no older than five days — prior to arrival. On October 1, the Ministry of Tourism announced that the tourism sector will reopen on November 1 and individuals traveling to The Bahamas — visitors, residents and citizens — will be required to take a rapid antigen test upon arrival and again 96 hours later. However, during a press conference on Saturday, D’Aguilar said, “At first, we contemplated replacing the mandatory 14-day quarantine with a series of tests, namely, a rapid antigen test on arrival and a rapid antigen test five days after arrival if the traveler was still in country at that time. “As you can imagine, the logistics and complexities of rolling out any type of testing in a country with as many islands and, as a consequence, as many ports of entry as we have in The Bahamas, is no small undertaking. “As the Ministry of Tourism fleshed out that idea — of testing at the border — and began to roll it out with the huge support of the immigration department, NAD (Nassau Airport Development Company), the Airport Authority, the Grand Bahama Airport Company, marina operators, local healthcare providers and other interested parties in the private sector, the guidance from the Ministry of Health changed. “The use of rapid antigen tests as an effective screening tool at the border was not supported by the available research or, as some like to say, was not supported by the science. “As a result, effective tomorrow, November 1, 2020, there will be no tests conducted on arrival.” Yesterday marked The Bahamas’ second attempt at reopening its tourism sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first reopening, which took place on July 1, was followed by a spike in COVID cases on Grand Bahama and New Providence — the two most populous islands in The Bahamas. The novel coronavirus also spread throughout the country. While quarantine was mandatory for all individuals traveling to The Bahamas, residents and citizens traveling for less than 72 hours were not required to present a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test upon arrival. The move was later blamed for the resurgence of COVID following weeks of no new cases. Burden Mandatory quarantine made The Bahamas “unattractive” to visitors, D’Aguilar said. “Given that the 14-day mandatory quarantine will be removed, visitors will no longer be required to vacation in place for 14 days,” he said. “Visitors will be able to move about and enjoy the amenities of their hotel, the beach and excursions – so long as all health protocols are followed and enforced.” D’Aguilar’s statement that the plan to scrap quarantine remained in place, came just a day after the government released a new emergency order, which states that anyone traveling to The Bahamas must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The minister said at the press conference that the emergency order will be revised to reflect the position that quarantine is no longer required. A travel health visa is still required for all individuals traveling to The Bahamas. As has been the case for the last four months, it will only be granted after travelers secure their RT-PCR negative test results. The visa will now come with a cost, however. It will cost $40 for visitors staying up to four nights and five days. Citizens and returning residents will have to pay the same price. It will cost $60 for visitors staying more than four nights. The visa will be free for children under 10. The cost of the visa includes the cost of the rapid antigen test and mandatory health insurance. “The inclusion of the travel health insurance is to ensure that any visitor, who may test positive for the coronavirus while on vacation in The Bahamas or becomes ill from the virus while in The Bahamas, will not suddenly become a burden on an already overburdened Bahamian public health system,” D’Aguilar said. “This insurance is not intended for Bahamians as they will be returning home and we expect them to avail themselves of our local healthcare providers and our local medical facilities in the usual manner.” He added, “The influx of arriving passengers will not jeopardize the availability of health resources, hospital beds or COVID-19 testing capabilities for any Bahamian. “Atlantic Medical, now known as CG Atlantic, has been contracted to fulfill this new, mandatory requirement that each visitor coming to The Bahamas be in possession of specific COVID travel health insurance.  “In the case where a visitor tests positive, three comprehensive options are available to the visitor – none of which will burden our existing health infrastructure. “First, those who test positive but exhibit no symptoms (asymptomatic) can quarantine in place for up to 14 days. The insurance will cover the hotel costs of that quarantine. “Second, if a person tests positive, exhibits no symptoms (asymptomatic) but has a pre-existing medical condition, then they will have the option to be medically evacuated out of the country. “And third, if a person tests positive and exhibits symptoms, they will be immediately medically evacuated to their home country for medical purposes.” The insurance will be mandatory as of November 14. Second test Anyone traveling to The Bahamas for more than four nights will be required to take an additional rapid antigen test. The results of the antigen test to be taken five days after arrival will be provided via text and emailed within the hour. The location of where this test will be administered will be provided on The Bahamas health travel visa website. “In Nassau, it will be any Doctors Hospital location. In the Family Islands, obviously, each island will have a different option,” D’Aguilar said. “When you receive your Bahamas health travel visa, it will possess a QR code, which is like a bar code. When you present for the five day test, that QR code will be scanned by the screener so that the results of your test can be properly uploaded to your account. “Naturally, we encourage everyone to take the five day test so that we can assess your status five days after entering The Bahamas. “We also encourage you to take the test since you would have already paid for it and there may be a small fine if you do not.” Visitors will also be required to complete a daily online health questionnaire in order to ensure “effective” monitoring of symptoms, according to D’Aguilar. The questionnaires will be sent via email every day for the duration of their stay. “This screening tool will involve a series of questions which, if answered truthfully, will allow an automatic assessment to be conducted and, if necessary, an immediate referral to screeners for further follow up and evaluation,” D’Aguilar said. “Any visitor who displays COVID-19 symptoms during their stay — either through the self-reporting mechanism of a hotel or through a Ministry of Health evaluation — will be required to take a rapid antigen test and receive a negative result in order to continue with their vacation. “Those who test positive will be required to then take an RT-PCR swab test and, if they test positive with that, they will be handed over to Atlantic Medical to take advantage of one the three options already outlined in the insurance policy.”

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