The Government’s decision to partially lift the COVID mask mandate for resorts was yesterday hailed by a top hotelier as placing The Bahamas “on the cutting edge” of post-pandemic recovery.
Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business that the destination was “well poised to exceed our recovery expectations” after the Davis administration lifted the requirement to wear masks in hotel lobbies, corridors and casinos, or in the outside grounds, where there was at least three feet distance separating non-family members.
Suggesting that COVID-19 will become “a lifestyle going forward and we’ll have to live with it”, he conceded that some measures may have to remain in place to protect Bahamians, residents and visitors from the virus.
“The furtherance of relaxation of COVID restrictions amply illustrates the Government’s commitment to continuing to enable the full and substantial recovery of our tourism sector; our tourism economy,” Mr Sands told this newspaper of the mask relaxation.
“As competing destinations and key source markets shed their respective COVID restrictions as the number of COVID infections continues to decline or fall, we fully appreciate the Government’s efforts to ensure we remain on the cutting edge by removing impediments to travel while maintaining the safety of residents, citizens and tourists.
“I believe we are on solid footing, given the trajectory we are on so far, and if we continue on this path we will be well poised to exceed our expectations for recovery of our number one industry, tourism.”
Mr Sands spoke out after the Ministry of Health and Wellness, in a statement, confirmed the mask mandate easing for resort properties and their guests. “A person is not required to wear a face mask while in a lobby, corridor, or casino of a hotel or while in an outdoor setting where there is at least three feet of space between persons who are not of the same household,” it said.
The BHTA president had previously said the COVID mask mandate was receiving significant push back from visitors who are no longer subject to such requirements at home, and of whom around 90 percent are fully vaccinated.
The mask easing does not go as far as the Bahamian hotel and tourism industry would like, the sector hoping it would be eased in restaurants and across all amenities, but Mr Sands said of guest reaction: “It is fair to say that the direction we have moved in will meet almost 100 percent with their approval.
“I think that the protocols which have been removed will go a long way. I think it’s only a matter of time when there will be further enhancements, and we and the general public are demonstrating that we are taking COVID seriously and the numbers remain at very low levels or continue to fall.
“I’ve always said any improvement is positive….There are still issues that remain in place, but COVID will become a lifestyle going forward. We’ll have to live with it, and some protocols will be necessary for the protection of the general population of The Bahamas and tourists,” he continued.
“It’s a perfect storm, and all these relaxations will help to ensure The Bahamas retains its number one position as the premier tourism destination of the Caribbean.”
The Ministry of Health and Wellness, meanwhile, also cut social distancing requirements inside businesses by 50 percent – from six feet to three feet.
“Business establishments shall ensure that all customers and staff maintain physical distancing between themselves and others of not less than three feet while inside or awaiting entry outside the business,” it said.
“Businesses shall determine the number of persons permitted entry into the business at any one time based on one person for every 30 square feet of floor space which is unoccupied by furnishings, fixtures or machinery and is accessible to the public.
“Businesses must have distance markers three feet apart, indicating where each customer is to stand on a line awaiting entry or check out…… All restaurants shall ensure that seating is arranged so that there is the spacing of at least three feet between each dining party.”
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor