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BHTA Pres Urges Gov to Drop Mask Mandate

While tourism stakeholders have had some significant wins in getting government to acquiesce to positions on COVID-19 mandates that will make travel to The Bahamas easier for visitors, they continue to beat the drum for the dropping of the mask mandate and a change in status for unvaccinated individuals, President of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association Robert “Sandy” Sands told Guardian Business yesterday.

Sands explained that while the issue of unvaccinated travelers has to be dealt with on multiple fronts, tourism stakeholders continue to make a case for dropping the mask mandate given that visitors from our largest source market, the United States (US), are largely no longer subject to legislated mask-wearing.

He explained that masks and the continued testing for unvaccinated individuals continue to remain impediments to travel to The Bahamas.

“[The remaining sticking points are] the mask mandate and certainly the issue of unvaccinated individuals, and the requirement for them to enter the country,” said Sands.

He added, “The third [important point for tourism stakeholders], one which is not an impediment, is how do we still continue to encourage people to become vaccinated, to get our vaccination rate up higher than where we are in the mid-50s, so that the comfort level of minimizing any outbreak of COVID can be somewhat contained and wouldn’t have a negative impact on our hospitals going forward.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper revealed recently that government intends to loosen arrival testing protocols for cruise ship visitors, especially given that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ceased its COVID-19 monitoring program with cruise lines.

Cooper explained that the government was reticent to change the protocols partly because of the country’s low vaccination rate.

However, he contended it was right to bring the cruise line protocols in parallel with air arrival protocols.

Sands said tourism stakeholders continually raise these particular issues with government. 

“I think the mask mandate perhaps may be the major issue and we hear the minister of health’s position on that, and, to some degree, he has some valid points,” said Sands.

“It is very difficult for persons coming from source markets where all of these particular issues have been eradicated or eliminated and then finding themselves certainly within that position of having to do that (wear a mask).

“It remains one of the impediments, but I think we have continued to raise that particular point.”