U.S. trips will need negative COVID test

THE US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday it will require all air passengers entering the United States to have a negative COVID-19 test as cases surge in America and a more infectious coronavirus strain spreads around the world.

When contacted last night, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said while the new requirement will no doubt be an added concern for visitors, he “breathed a sigh of relief” that the US would allow travellers to get a PCR or antigen test for entry, the latter of which is cheaper and has a quicker turnaround time.

In a statement posted on its website, the CDC noted that air passengers will be required to get a viral test — a test for current infection — within the three days before their flight to the US departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19.

Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger, the CDC said.

The order was signed by CDC Director Robert Redfieldon yesterday and will become effective on January 26.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” the CDC director said in the agency’s statement, “but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

Last night, the tourism minister said he is thankful The Bahamas had already rolled out antigen testing protocols across the country which will ensure travellers here can meet the new US requirement.

“We’ve been advised that were you to require a test to enter the US, it would be either a PCR or an antigen test, both of which are very easily accessible here,” Mr D’Aguilar said last night. “Needless to say, it is another concern for a traveller. The traveller who is planning a trip out of the US, going to any Caribbean country, is going to need a PCR test to enter The Bahamas or a Caribbean country and then is going to need a PCR or an antigen test to re-enter the US.

“However, thankfully, in our entry protocols, we require anyone in the country to get a rapid antigen test on day five of their visit in the country so we have a network of clinics/testing centres through the length and breadth of the county where travellers can obtain a rapid antigen test very easily.

“My biggest concern was, they couldn’t obtain one (a PCR test) in the Family Islands and that would significantly restrict travel to the Family Islands, so I’m appeased somewhat that it is a rapid antigen test because travellers can very easily obtain a rapid antigen test throughout The Bahamas.

“In the rollout of the travel visa, we built this network in excess of 60 clinics or testing sites throughout the country so it will be very easy for travellers to obtain this rapid antigen test to return back to the United States. A number of hotels are actually already providing this test on property, so for example Baha Mar tests you when you come in with a rapid antigen test so it’s very easy and it is a relatively inexpensive test so companies should be able to offer it for between $20 and $30 depending on the type of test you use, so it should be pretty straightforward for travellers to obtain this test.

“I’ve breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t just a PCR test. I breathe this for the Family Islands especially because you cannot get a PCR test. Thank God the government decided to introduce a rapid antigen test on day five of a visit because it caused us to build out a network. It was a judicious decision by the government to introduce a five-day antigen test because we are prepared.”

The CDC’s latest directive expands on an earlier policy last month which required passengers travelling from the UK to the US to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before travelling. This came after the UK experienced a surge in new COVID-19 cases due to more contagious strain of the virus.

The new strain is not more deadly, however.

The Bahamas currently requires all travellers to present a negative PCR test taken within five days of travel to enter the country. Those staying more than five days are required to take an antigen test on day five, but last week officials revealed more than 40 percent of travellers in this category have not met this requirement.