By Jacqueline Charles

Less than three weeks after reopening its borders to international visitors, the Bahamas on Sunday announced that it is closing all of its airports and seaports to tourists from the United States, effective Wednesday.

Bahamasair, the country’s national carrier, will cease all outgoing flights to the United States immediately, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a national address Sunday.

Outgoing commercial flights will still be permitted to accommodate visitors scheduled to leave the Bahamas after Wednesday, he said. Visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union will still be permitted to visit as long as they can show proof of a negative COVID-19 RT PCR test from an accredited laboratory taken within 10 days of their arrival. Also allowed under the new order: private international flights and charters and pleasure crafts.

“Regrettably, the situation here at home has already deteriorated since we began the reopening of our domestic economy,” said Minnis, who has been serving as the island nation’s acting health minister since May. “It has deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders.”

On Sunday, the Bahamas Ministry of Health registered 15 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, for a total tally of 153 cases, Minnis said. Of the total, 49 new infections have been recorded since the country’s borders fully reopened on July 1. And of that number, 31 have been registered on the island of Grand Bahama, which had been COVID-19 free for a little over two months and is still recovering from last year’s devastating hurricane. 

“Our current situation demands decisive action, if we are to avoid being overrun and defeated by this virus,” Minnis said. “We cannot allow our hospitals to be overrun. Many priorities must be balanced, be they health, social and economic.”

The U.S., and Florida in particular, represents the largest tourism market for the Bahamas, which has been keeping a close eye on Florida’s high COVID-19 case count and death toll. On Sunday, Florida’s state’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 12,478 new cases, the second-highest total for a Sunday but far below last week’s 15,300.

Last week, the state had 69,700 new cases. This week’s 80,236 new cases pushed the state past 350,000 cases. 

Faced with such stark numbers and the increased movement of Bahamians since the country reopened, Minnis also announced new restrictive measures, and warned that more could come if the Bahamas doesn’t see a change in its own spiking infections. As of Monday, all public and private beaches on the island of New Providence, where the capital of Nassau is located, Paradise Island, Rose Island, Athol Island and surrounding cays will be closed as of 5 a.m., he said. 

Also because of the confirmed COVID-19 infections in Grand Bahama, Minnis said, a new island-wide curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. will go into effect beginning Monday. All indoor dining, public and private beaches and parks also will be closed until further notice. continue reading

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