Dr. George Charite and Dr. Marc Binard, of Integrated Medical Centre in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, detail what Bahamians are going through following Hurricane Dorian.
Treasure Coast Newspapers
Capt. Billy Black of Stuart spent a majority of his past 28 years as a fixture charter fisherman in the Bahamas. Like many fishermen, divers, powerboaters, sailors and other tourists, he has not been able to visit his favorite destinations in the island nation for the past three months because of the coronavirus protocols.
That changed June 15. The Bahamas has reopened – not to all tourists, but some, reports Treasure Coast Newspapers, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Black is crossing over Monday with a friend to help him deliver his boat. By the end of the month, Black has two fishing trips chartered by customers to fish out of Grand Cay, one of the islands in the Abacos hardest hit by Hurricane Dorian last September.
The northern portion of the Bahamas has endured 10 months unlike any experienced anywhere else. While trying to rebuild and recover from one of the deadliest hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, the country shuttered and restricted in-nation travel.
Damage is widespread across Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, following Hurricane Dorian’s direct hit in September. (Photo: LEAH VOSS/TCPALM)
Perhaps one of the worst parts of the equation is that Bahamians derive the bulk of their income from tourism. Fishing, diving and soaking up the sun generates $5.7 billion a year for the economy.
In 2018, more than 590,000 boaters visited the Bahamas. About 3.2 million tourists were from the U.S., contributing an estimated $1.3 billion to the economy.
After Dorian, the majority of the assistance – building supplies, generators, water, diapers, canned goods and medical help – came from their Florida neighbors. Black ferried over supplies on a number of trips aboard his 53-foot Hatteras, The Duchess.
“It’s going to be different because after the virus, there will be a lot of paperwork and you need to prove you had a negative COVID-19 test,” Black said. “But the bottom-fishing there should be spectacular. The blue marlin are still there, and we can catch them, dolphin, wahoo and tuna year-round.”
Caribbean comeback: A guide to when travelers can return to the islands
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Bahamas Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee recently announced plans to reopen in two phases:
Phase 1 (June 15)
- International boaters, yachters and private aviators can return.
- Commercial airlines can bring Bahamian citizens, legal residents and homeowners qualifying for economic permanent residency.
- Immediate family members or significant others of any of the groups above can return.
- All returning people must register at a Bahamian Embassy or consulate and obtain a COVID-19 test with a negative result.
- Hotels have reopened, but only for staff to enact the measures required to ensure hotels are ready to welcome guests at the onset of Phase 2.
“Allowing the smaller special-interest groups will allow a more controlled segment to test the country’s new measures,” a news release states.
Incoming boaters must plan ahead before traveling. Pre-travel requirements include:
- COVID-19 RT-PCR negative test result no older than 10 days, ready to be handed to Customs & Immigration officials upon arrival. (Children under 2 are exempt.) Note: Keep a copy for yourself.
- Customs & Immigration forms that must be filled out and printed before arrival. They are available at Bahamasmarinas.com.
- A Travel Health Card that must be filled out before travel, available at travel.gov.bs.
- No additional health form is necessary for inter-island travel.
- Marinas must be informed at least 48 hours before a vessel’s arrival. The form is also available at Bahamasmarinas.com.
Phase 2 (July 1)
- International travel, including commercial flights, can resume.
- Hotels and vacation rentals, including Airbnb and HomeAway, can reopen.
- Transportation including taxis, jitneys and buses, will be allowed.
“The Bahamas’ tourism-dependent economy will gradually come back online following a strategic, phased approach that ensures critical health and safety protocols are being adhered to, and that the health sector remains well-equipped and ready to respond as necessary,” a news release says.
The announcement lays out specific protocols for hotels, restaurants, taxis, ferries and more. There will be temperature screenings at places such as airports; beach chairs will be spaced 6 feet apart; and buffets at resorts are discontinued until further notice. It also recommends incoming travelers adhere to social distancing guidelines and “pack appropriate personal protective equipment such as face masks, just as they would their swimsuits and sunscreen.”
“We must remember that we are living in a new normal in the wake of COVID-19 and a lot is going to change across the tourism sector,” Joy Jibrilu, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation director-general, said in the news release. “We are putting an even greater emphasis on making sure the Bahamas is safe and clean for everyone, and look forward to once again providing travelers with the tropical experience our islands are known for.”
Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said the opening of the island nation may be scaled back if COVID-19 cases spike.
“It will be adjusted if we see a deterioration of the COVID-19 infection trends or if we’ve determined that the protocols and procedures are not in place sufficiently to warrant this opening,” Minnis told The Tribune newspaper.
Capt. Billy Black of Stuart, left, is eager to fish for dolphin, wahoo, tuna and blue marlin in Bahamian waters beginning June 15, 2020. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILLY BLACK)
3 nights, 3 hotels: What it’s really like to stay in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic
At Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour on Grand Bahama Island, the staff is ready to welcome guests. Reservations are trickling in as news circulates about the reopening.
A receptionist there confirmed the 79 rooms and 72 slips in the marina are being booked and said the Fourth of July weekend is already full.
Part of the island was able to rebuild quickly after Dorian and was open within two months of the storm. Many places on the eastern end of Grand Bahama, or in places such as Marsh Harbour, Green Turtle Cay, Elbow Cay, Great Guana Cay and Man-O-War Cay are still slowly rebuilding. Some resorts are fully operational, some partially and some remain closed until further notice.
Black said he has a charter in early July out of Grand Cay. His clients will stay at the villas on the island, which have been repaired. The docks are repaired and the island has electricity and water.
“They haven’t had one case of COVID-19 on Grand Cay and only a few on Grand Bahama,” Black said. “I’m happy they’re able to start to reopen. So many lost so much during Dorian.”
Ed Killer is TCPalm’s outdoors writer. Become a valued customer by subscribing to TCPalm. To interact with Ed, friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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