U-turn on tests for hotel stays

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

THE government reversed its position prohibiting Bahamians from staying at hotels during lockdown weekends unless they produce a negative COVID-19 test result less than 24-hours after the move was announced.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said though officials feared people would go to the hotels and disregard health protocols, hotel bosses have assured them social distancing rules will be enforced.

“The hotels were reminded of the consequence and the penalties if they don’t follow the law,” he said.

The Ministry of Tourism said in a statement on Wednesday that hotels or resorts are not allowed to accept guests who don’t have a negative COVID-19 test result.

Some local hotels have been targeting residents during the COVID-19 crisis. One hotel had over 100 people booked for this upcoming weekend, about 50 percent of its capacity, Mr D’Aguilar said.

However, the Freetown MP said concern about cancellations is not what prompted the government’s reversal.

“The initial reasoning or requirement that local residents wishing to go into local hotels take a COVID-19 test was because hotels were being used as possible quarantine sites for foreign visitors so if you’re a foreign visitor and you had the 14-day mandatory quarantine, you’re forced to quarantine in a hotel,” he said. “If you were to allow residents into the hotels you would have this very odd scenario where you have people who were tested before they came to the country mingling with guests who didn’t, who had no tests at all. We were trying to get it to work. We figured that in our quest to remain fair that a local person would also have to get a negative PCR test.

“With the approaching storm and the general lack of foreign visitors in the country, we decided not to implement that policy until after further consideration but we would like to implement the social distancing rules. We are wary of a situation where people go piling into a hotel and not practising the health protocols and pictures and videos start emerging of them having a good time at the hotel but we have gotten assurances that all protocols will be followed.”

Asked if the government will revisit the decision if the number of visitors to the country ticks up, Mr D’Aguilar said officials are “playing it by ear.”