By Monica Buchanan Pitrelli
(CNBC) — Less than three weeks after reopening to international travelers, the Bahamas is closing its borders to U.S. residents after a rise of coronavirus infections on the island nation.
In a national address on July 19, Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced that airports and seaports would close to all travelers except those coming from Canada, the U.K. and EU starting July 22 at midnight. While he did not specifically single out American tourists, that country has accounted for most of the Bahamas’ stopover visitors — more than 78% as of 2016.
“I understand the frustration and disappointment of many Bahamians and residents that may ensue as we reimplement certain restrictions,” Minnis said. “But as a country … we have to do what is right and we have to do what is necessary.”
He said Bahamasair, the Bahamas national airline, will immediately cease all flights to the U.S. too.
A record-breaking 7.2 million tourists visited the Bahamas in 2019, despite the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Dorian last year. Most of those visitors were from the United States.
The Bahamas is the closest Caribbean island to U.S. shores. One of its islands, Bimini, lies about 50 miles east of Miami and is reachable via charter boat or a two-hour fast ferry departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The travel reversal is a new blow to American travelers, who after being locked out of the EU, were welcomed by many Caribbean islands earlier this summer.
What happened in the Bahamas
As of July 19, the Bahamas’ Ministry of Health confirmed 49 new cases of Covid-19 since the country reopened its borders to international travelers on July 1. Of these, 31 were on the popular island of Grand Bahama, which had gone more than two months without any cases before the borders reopened.
In total, the Bahamas, which has nearly 400,000 people, has confirmed 153 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
“Regrettably, the situation here at home has already deteriorated since we began the reopening of our domestic economy,” said Minnis, adding that it “deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders.”
How the Bahamas responded
Minnis announced additional measures to help curb the spread of Covid-19:
· Beaches and parks on New Providence, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama and other locations have been closed.
· Restaurants at Arawak Cay and Potter’s Cay will also be closed until better social distancing can be practiced and enforced.
· Grand Bahama only: A daily curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in effect, and international and domestic borders will be closed effective July 22. Indoor dining is not allowed and bars are closed. Church services, weddings, funerals and sports activities are no longer permitted, and fines will be issued for flouting social distancing and mask rules.
Minnis warned that if cases continue to rise, the Bahamas could go on lockdown as early as July 24.
How others are approaching U.S. travelers
Many Caribbean nations — such as Antigua, Aruba, Bermuda, Jamaica and St. Lucia — had either already reopened, or were on the precipice of reopening, when U.S. coronavirus cases started to surge in mid-to-late June. Caribbean countries quickly began adding stricter measures, such as negative Covid-19 tests, to enter.
Grenada, however, took a different approach. Citing an increase in infection rates, especially in the U.S., it delayed reopening. On July 10, Grenada announced a three-tiered approach to begin on August 1:
· Low-risk countries, such as other Caribbean nations, can take a rapid test upon arrival. Those testing positive must take a Covid-19 PCR test, which if positive would require a 14-day quarantine or two negative test results.
· Medium-risk countries where “there is active, but manageable transmission,” such as Canada, the U.K. and EU nations, must present a negative Covid-19 PCR test upon arrival and undergo a rapid test upon entry, which if negative would allow “limited movement” thereafter.
· High-risk countries where “there is active and widespread transmission” (arriving mainly via charter flights and yachts) must arrive with negative PCR tests in hand, undergo rapid tests and, even if negative, must quarantine for 14 days in accommodations approved by the Ministry of Health.
To date, Grenada has only had 23 confirmed Covid-19 cases, all of whom have recovered.
A sign of things to come?
Whether the Bahamas closing to Americans is a one-off incident or a sign of things to come is unknown.
Mark Cameron, an epidemiologist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine said the U.S. is in uncharted territory in terms of its epidemiological curve, and has no global peers setting such “disturbing new trends.”
“These Caribbean nations will not be the last to react in this manner,” he said. “I think any country that has learned how to truly bend its curve down, learned how to truly resolve its first wave rather than be satisfied with an unstable plateau, will close or remain closed to U.S. resident travel until our numbers reflect that we’ve learned how to do the same thing.”