Positive test stymies return of stranded Bahamians

Bert Wilkinson | 5/14/2020, midnight
Authorities in The Bahamas have suspended repatriation flights for citizens to the regional tourist paradise after an arriving passenger from ...
Flag of The Bahamas Image by jorono from Pixabay

Authorities in The Bahamas have suspended repatriation flights for citizens to the regional tourist paradise after an arriving passenger from the U.S. tested positive for the coronavirus. The positive test has reiterated the government’s reluctance to bring back home stranded Bahamians, officials said.

The development, even though it occurred in The Bahamas, could have implications for governments across the 15-nation Caribbean Community, many of which have been under severe pressure from nationals stranded on cruise ships, in foreign capitals, on overseas university campuses and other places, to be allowed to return home.

In an address to the nation at the weekend, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said that an official investigation has been launched into the troubling situation.

“It was discovered after the aircraft landed that one COVID-19 positive passenger was on the flight to Grand Bahama. We are investigating to see how the individual was allowed to board that flight. Three individuals travelled with this passenger. All four of these individuals have been tested again upon arrival and we are awaiting the test results. All passengers wore personal protection equipment which decreases the risk of exposure. All passengers on the flight will remain in quarantine and will continue to be monitored. Pending the investigation and review of this matter, I have advised the airline and was also advised by the health officials to temporarily suspend the repatriation flights which we will resume as soon as health officials advise,” the PM said.

A total of 183 persons were on the flight and health authorities have placed 124 in home quarantine and the remainder at a state facility as precautionary measures.

The positive test comes as governments in a number of member nations are reluctantly trying to facilitate the return of their own citizens back home. Dozens are stranded on cruise ships docked far from home and a significant number are pressing to be allowed to return home by charter flights from various university campuses mostly in the Caribbean, North America and Britain.

Authorities in St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean, for example, are trying to arrange special charter for locals from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. The students have to come up with a minimum of $1,000 per seat to make the flight a reality. Many are desperate and have run out of funds to sustain themselves.

Most airports in the region have been closed to normal passenger traffic to limit the spread of imported cases at least for the next two weeks. This has had a devastating effect on a region which largely depends on travels and tourism.

In Trinidad, where authorities have held a hardline against reopening its locked air and sea borders, the government appears to be bowing to pressure to bring back dozens of nationals stranded in Venezuela and Guyana.

The only problem, officials said, is that special permission would have to be arranged with Venezuela for temporary permission to land the charter and there has been no success so far for this.

Guyana, on the other hand, has been allowing special charters to depart with foreigners willing to leave, mostly to the U.S.

Trinidad Prime Minister Keith Rowley has said that reopening of the borders would be the last decision his cabinet would make regarding the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. This, he noted, would only be done if there is no spike in the numbers from other sectors which will soon be allowed to reopen in phases.

“If our virus load in the population is so low then the only place other than growing it here by misbehavior––the only place that we are exposed to––will be an inflow of infected people from outside. To prevent that from happening, we do not want to squander the good results,” he said.