Less than a month after opening its borders to international travelers, the Bahamas will re-close them this week. In a speech on July 19, Bahamian Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a spike in new COVID-19 cases since the country’s July 1 travel reopening—there have been 49 since that date, including 15 alone on July 19—and cited growing concerns about how nearby countries are handling the pandemic. The United States, for instance, whose citizens historically account for approximately 75 percent of the Bahamas’ total annual visitors, has seen a dramatic rise in new coronavirus cases, from roughly 30,000 per day in mid-June to over 70,000 per day by mid-July.
As such, Dr. Minnis officially declared that the Bahamas would no longer permit international travelers to enter the country, banning most international commercial flights, effective at midnight on July 22. He also announced that Bahamas flagship airline, Bahamasair, has immediately ceased all flights to and from the U.S. In addition to these measures, the island of Grand Bahama, the epicenter of the Bahamas’ current outbreak, will be closed to domestic travel.
Though Dr. Minnis said in his statement that outbound commercial flights to the U.S. would be permitted to fly citizens out of the country, Americans currently in the Bahamas should switch their flights to return home as soon as possible to avoid any travel issues.
“The U.S. Embassy wishes to advise that, given that inbound commercial flights from the United States with passengers will cease on July 22, the availability of outbound commercial flights is expected to diminish rapidly.” wrote the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas in a travel alert. “U.S. citizens who wish to return to the United States should make commercial arrangements as soon as possible unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period or to pay for private or charter transportation. The U.S. Embassy does not anticipate providing repatriation flights.”
In the same alert, officials also urged U.S. citizens on Grand Bahama to depart the island immediately or to prepare to remain there for some time, given its domestic closure.
This emergency order is a blow to the Bahamas’ economy, approximately 50 percent of which is driven by tourism, which might explain some of the loopholes in the new policy that are allowing some tourists to trickle in. As stated by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, citizens of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union will be exempt from the travel ban—likely because these countries have been more successful than the U.S. in their attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Commercial flights originating in these regions will also be permitted to fly to the Bahamas. All travelers will be required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test from an accredited lab taken within 10 days before their arrival to the Bahamas. “Upon arrival, any person presenting a test older than ten days will not be allowed entry into The Bahamas,” a Bahamas Ministry of Tourism spokesperson told TripSavvy via email. “All travelers are also required to complete an electronic Health Visa prior to departure at travel.gov.bs, regardless of age or test exemption status.”
Interestingly, there’s another significant exception to the travel ban. International travelers—including ones from the U.S.—will be able to continue to visit the islands after July 22 if they enter the country via a private jet, chartered flight, pleasure craft, or yacht and present a negative COVID-19 test that meets the requirements mentioned above. “Americans arriving by private means are not required to quarantine for 14 days as long as they provide proof of a COVID-19 RT-PCR Negative (Swab) Test from a referenced lab. [The] test must be taken no more than [ten] days prior to the date of travel,” said the spokesperson.