When the Bahamas imposes its travel ban on Americans at midnight Wednesday, you can still get there if you have a yacht, a private plane, or enough cash for a ride aboard a private charter.
Those are the only exceptions to an action designed not only to keep sick people away from South Florida’s island neighbor in the Atlantic, but to ensure that travelers remain healthy while visiting there.
Worried by the surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as well as an uptick in cases in the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced Sunday he is closing the country to international commercial flights and commercial vessels that carry passengers from the U.S. Travelers from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union are still welcome. Bahamasair, the national airline, has already halted its flights in and out to the U.S.
By mid-week, the ability of South Floridians to move back and forth as they did during normal times will remain limited so long as the restrictions are in place.
After Wednesday, the only alternate means of travel will be private boats and flights and charter flights from the United States. Even those will be banned from Freeport on Grand Bahama, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. The ministry did not say why Freeport is off limits.
“Reopening of borders will continue to be monitored and guided by the Bahamas government and health officials, based on COVID-19 trends,” the ministry said Monday.
In an email Monday, the ministry also laid out these rules:
All those traveling into the country are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 swab test from a referenced lab taken no more than 10 days prior to the date of travel, and submit a Travel Health Visa at Bahamas.com/TravelUpdates.
All permitted travelers should review the country’s requirements applicable to each member of their party before booking a trip, to determine what steps need to be taken to be granted entry.
Once inside the country, visitors are required to wear masks in public places such as restaurants and shops. Failure to do so could result in a $200 fine, a month’s imprisonment, or both.
“I don’t blame them,” said state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Bahamian-American with constituents who travel between their homes in South Broward County and the islands. “The [case] numbers in the Bahamas are relatively down. They have 153 total cases and only 11 deaths. I know their population is smaller than Florida’s and in the U.S. They seem to have figured this out, but we didn’t.”
The Bahamas is one of the most far-flung territories of all of South Florida’ offshore neighbors, covering 700 islands over 100,000 square miles of ocean,
Between March and July, the government closed its territory to international travel in a bid to keep the virus outside its borders. The action took a toll on jobs and commerce, as key resorts cut back on operations or suspended them entirely.
The government’s latest move -- as well as measures before it -- carry ramifications for businesses and tourists alike, and the ripple effects can be especially pronounced in South Florida.
On Friday, the huge Atlantis Paradise Island resort adjacent to Nassau, the capital, announced it was extending its closing. The resort, which is popular with gamblers and vacationers from South Florida and elsewhere around the U.S., initially closed March 25.
The prolonged shutdown affected employees who work for a company in Plantation called Brookfield Properties. Its employees support Atlantis in areas such as management, sales, technology and other business functions. In a notice filed with the state of Florida last week, Brookfield said 146 people would be laid off Sept. 16. The company cited customer cancellations and an “inability to resume core operations” at any time certain in the future.
Long-term, the stakes are high
The Bahamian economy is driven by tourism, international banking, and investment management, according to the U.S. State Department. The agency says a majority of the 5.5 million tourists who visit the island nation each year come from the U.S. There is a significant Bahamian population in South Florida, with many regularly traveling back and forth for personal and business reasons.
In addition, of the U.S.-affiliated businesses operating there are associated with tourism and banking. But there are also companies operating out of the U.S. that do business in Grand Bahama. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises are in a joint venture with a local port authority to operate the commercial port there.
Cruise lines sailing from South Florida also own and operate private islands in the Bahamas for the use of their passengers. But those enclaves have been largely idled by the shutdown of the cruise industry, most of which isn’t expected to try to resume sailings until the end of September.