The Bahamas government has announced it is closing its borders to commercial flights and ships from the United States, as the island prepares to enforce additional travel and safety restrictions in attempt to curb the spread of the CIVID-19.
In a statement posted to the web page of the office of Bahamas Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, officials said that Bahamasair, the national airline, has ceased all outgoing flights to the US, effective immediately (July 20).
The total number of cases in the Bahamas is 153. Officials said about one third of these cases were as a result of opening their borders within the last few weeks.
In the statement, which includes an extensive list of restrictions, Minnis said the country is implementing the travel restrictions due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the USA.
The restrictions include limiting entry to the country’s airports and seaports.
“International commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union,” the statement said.
It added that “international and domestic borders will be closed to all incoming and outgoing flights and sea vessels to and from Grand Bahama, except for emergencies and to transport essential services and goods.”
Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have agreed to sell their shares in the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, to accommodate a new reorganizational plan outlined by Antigua and Barbuda.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne said, after a shareholders meeting an agreement had been reached to sell three of the aircraft that had been acquired with funds provided by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
The other major shareholder government of the Antigua-based airline is Dominica.
He said at the meeting it was agreed to sell the three planes that are owned by LIAT and charged to the Caribbean Development Bank.
Browne said the loans, which were actually guaranteed by the shareholder governments, the proceeds from the sale would be utilized to repay or reduce the outstanding debt.
He said there was also a decision that St. Vincent and Barbados will turn over their shares in LIAT to Antigua for one EC dollar each. In addition, the government of Antigua and Barbuda will work along with the administrator to raise additional capital to the new reorganized LIAT 1974 Limited.
Browne said this reorganization will include a significant haircut to all creditors including staff and outstanding severance, salaries and wages.
Antigua is promising to re-invest EC$108 million and is prepared to underwrite up to 50 percent of the required capitalization.
The Cayman Islands government said it will begin a six-month phased reopening of the borders to air travelers from Sept. 1, 2020.
Minister of Tourism, Moses Kirkconnell said the phased return of tourism will use testing and technology instead of lengthy quarantine.
He said the plan is still in the embryonic stage and will require much more work before it can be rolled out and tourists actually return.
The minister said the goal is to change the quarantine system on Sept. 1 from government mandated facilities to people isolating in their own homes or in hotels.
Kirkconnell said the government was not taking any risks, given the success Cayman has had in tackling the virus, but despite the concerns, keeping the borders closed indefinitely was not a reasonable or sustainable situation. However, he stressed that this will be a very conservative approach.
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Lee has been testing the device that will be used to monitor visitors, which has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. It measures temperature, pulse and breathing and issues an alarm of any of the levels spike.
Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell said Grenada will soon be reducing taxes on airline tickets as part of measures aimed at encouraging intra-regional travel with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
He said that this is being done as the government implements various strategies to encourage travel within the region.
Speaking on the pending liquidation of the regional airline, LIAT, Mitchell said there are other airlines which will be filling the void left by LIAT which suspended its service in April after most regional states shut down airports as part of measures aimed at containing COVID-19.
Liat which has served the regional for more than four decades has been experiencing financial challenges before the onset of the covid-19 pandemic and the closure of the airports around the regions placed in the airline states in a more difficult position.
Most airports in the region re-opened as of July 1 for commercial passengers since closure in late March but since then there has been little or no regional commercial air traffic as only a few airlines are offering services.
The Eastern Caribbean is significantly affected by the non-availability of LIAT.
Noting that One Caribbean, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Airways and InterCaribbean as airlines, which are about to include Grenada and other Eastern Caribbean countries to their routes, Dr. Mitchell said the reducing airline taxes has become a necessity.
Jamaica says it has welcomed more than 35,000 visitors since the island reopened its borders on June 15.
Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett said “we expect to have another 30,000 by the end of July and that would bring us somewhere in the region about US$80 million in foreign exchange.”
The island’s airports and seaports were closed to all incoming travelers since March 24, as part of measures to contain the transmission of the COVID-19 virus that has affected more than 750 people and killed 10 others.
The tourism minister said the protocols that have been developed to safeguard workers, visitors and Jamaicans will be reviewed periodically, “to ensure our processes are safe, seamless and secure.”
He noted that 10,000 masks were distributed to vulnerable tourism workers “to help stay safe and reduce the risk of spreading the disease.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, chairman of the shareholder governments of regional airline, LIAT has assured employees that payment of outstanding salaries and areas “will be urgently addressed.”
The Antigua-based financially-strapped regional airline owes its staff an estimated US$34.8 million in severance and holiday payments, which it is unable to pay.
Gonsalves in a letter addressed to staff members, said LIAT has been challenged as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and that the “financial state of the company has been reviewed and LIAT is unable to pay its debt.”
He said LIAT was having problems since 2017, when the hurricanes that year put the airline “in a tailspin and into 2018.”
In his June 29 letter to staff, Gonsalves said the major shareholders have made every effort to support the airline, however, with the current pandemic affecting all sectors of national economies, the major shareholders are unable to give LIAT needed support.
Trinidad-owned Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) has started services to the Eastern Caribbean.
CAL said in a statement the service will operate from Barbados and the flights will initially operate between Barbados to St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada with other destinations to be added once the regulatory approvals are received.
Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit recently announced that his administration had given the green light for CAL to fly into Dominica.
CAL said the route expansion into the Eastern Caribbean is part of its “current strategic plan” and that earlier this year it had acquired additional aircraft and resources including pilots and cabin crew to support this initiative.
The move by CAL comes as shareholder governments of the regional airline, LIAT, moved towards the liquidation of the Antigua-based regional airline.
— Compiled by Azad Ali