Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper. Photo: Donovan McIntosh / Tribune Staff
By LÃANDRA ROLLE
Journalist of the Tribune
TOURISM, Investment and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper said the government would extend its vaccination policy for cruise ships seeking to enter a Bahamian port until next year.
The policy, which requires cruise passengers aged 12 and over to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, was initiated by the former Minnis administration.
The order said exceptions to the vaccination requirement will be made in the event of an emergency, “in other emergency circumstances approved by the government” or if a passenger has a medical excuse for not being vaccinated.
âCrew, contractors and any non-paying passengersâ under existing protocols previously agreed between the government and cruise lines are also not required to abide by the rule.
The order was described in the COVID-19 Emergency Orders and went into effect from September 3 to November 1.
Asked yesterday whether the Davis administration was considering expanding the rule, Mr Cooper replied in the affirmative.
He said officials wanted to expand the policy in order to provide tourists with the confidence they so badly need to travel to the Bahamas in the current health climate.
“We are taking steps to extend this until 2022,” Cooper said before heading to a Cabinet meeting. âWe will take a close look at it going forward. We are actively in talks with our various cruise partners. As you know, last week we welcomed Virgin (Voyages) Cruises, a new ship to our shores, but we believe that vaccination is the right approach to be able to attract tourists to our shores in a balanced and responsible manner.
âSo we note that most of the time in the US market, we see vaccinations in the top 60 and 70 percent and we know that all of our cruise passengers who come naturally because of this vaccination rule, that is. is good for the Bahamas. This is good for the tourism industry and as we extend this rule we believe it will help us even more to develop our tourism business in a balanced way.
According to international reports, more than 187 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Here in the Bahamas, health officials said more than 115,000 people had been fully vaccinated, while more than 238,000 had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
However, Cooper said that, compared to other regions, he believes the country’s rates for fully vaccinated people may be too low.
“I am a little concerned that the number of fully vaccinated people in the Bahamas appears to be low, relatively low compared to the rest of the world,” he said. âWe know that some countries in the region, like Jamaica, are slightly lower than us, but overall we see a lot of tourists in the markets, people in the markets where our tourist comes from, their rates of vaccinations are usually in the 60s and early 70s so I think the best way to deal with COVID naturally is through vaccination and that’s the science behind it and certainly if we can make it happen. to produce in the near and medium future, I think it will be good for tourism and the country as a whole.
Yesterday, Mr. Cooper was also asked about the government’s plans to remove the travel health visa for international travel. The visa requirement was abolished for inter-island travel last month.
“We are not yet at the point where we are considering eliminating the international element of the travel visa,” he said.
âWe are monitoring it responsibly to determine the timing to do so. We are leading very exciting initiatives in terms of digitization. There is the question of whether the disembarkation card is going to continue or whether it is going to be replaced by digital means, so we are looking at all the possibilities for now.
âSuffice to say that we are not going to slack off in terms of dealing with COVID itself. We know from the data that many people who come to our shores are positive on the five-day test and we know that a large percentage of those people who test positive are in fact Bahamians, so we want to keep them going. effective checks as the travel health visa system helps us manage the incidences of positive cases arriving in our country, so until we have a mechanism to do this contract tracing and follow-up testing smoothly, we will continue with the travel health visa on the international side. “