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DECEMBER 8, 2021

Madame Speaker,

As always, I express my sincere gratitude to the people of Exuma & Ragged Island for this opportunity to serve them.

As members of this honorable House and members of the public would be aware, in November of last year, citing the protection of public health, the previous administration implemented a health travel visa that required every traveler into the country and throughout most of The Bahamas to fill out an online questionnaire and pay a fee to obtain a visa to enter the country, with additional fees depending on length of stay.

On December 5th and again on December 6th the processing of the Bahamas Tourism Health Visa platform experienced interruptions and delays for a short period on each day. This was reportedly due to power outages and other technical glitches at Cable Bahamas that serves as the government data host. This was most unacceptable and regrettable. We therefore apologize to the travelling public for this inconvenience. I have asked that our service providers put in place the appropriate redundancy so that this does not recur.

Our administration promised a review of all of the contracts associated with BTHV. I am pleased to report that that review has been done and renegotiations are underway with all of our partners.

Further, member would recall that the Progressive Liberal Party never felt this BTHV should apply to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents who call The Bahamas home.

It was both a financial and regulatory burden on Bahamians and we vowed to stop it.

Shortly after we came to office, we assessed the program and eliminated the fees for Bahamian citizens and residents and eliminated the visa altogether for inter-island travel.

The fees were left in place for visitors.

After assessing the program we are pleased to announce that as of Monday, December 13, 2021, Bahamians and residents will no longer be required to obtain a health travel visa to enter their beautiful home.

The PLP promised to end the travel health visa for Bahamians and residents unfairly implemented by the previous administration and we are doing just that.

This administration plans to take its promises to the Bahamian people seriously.

I want to stress further that the testing requirements will remain in place for all travelers.

The testing protocols are currently under review by the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Tourism has been consulted on same in order to ensure a balanced approach that protect our citizens, our tourism industry and our economy.

The Minister of Health will address this matter further in due course.

We emphasize that the travel health travel visa will remain in place for tourist, for the foreseeable future.

We believe that this provides a level of protection for the health and safety of all in The Bahamas by vetting the authenticity of documents by the Bahamas Health Travel Visa Program, well in advance of travel.

The visa has also allowed us to gather key data for analysis and marketing, and the means to better communicate events that may impact travel.

We foreshadow further, that the manual immigration landing card will be eliminated in due course. We are satisfied that once this process is digitized, it will create a further convenience to our tourists and foreign business travelers.

I would wish to inform this House and the public, Madame Speaker, that The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Investments & Aviation has taken note of the recent announcement issued by the United States requiring both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated US citizens or residents to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before boarding a flight to the US.

These requirements previously gave a longer window to vaccinated travelers; however, the tighter testing timeline for all will provide an added degree of public health protection given the emergence of the recent Omicron variant.

The Bahamas is well positioned to adapt to this new requirement as many hotel properties offer on-site testing, making the process for visitors as efficient as possible, with ample off-property testing sites also available throughout The Bahamas.

We remain optimistic for a robust winter travel season with ample direct airlift available from key markets, ample testing facilities, as well as accommodations and endless options of things to see, do and experience, to suit every type of vacation seeker – making The Bahamas a seamless travel opportunity.

Data from The Bahamas Travel Health Visa indicate an average of 62 percent of all visitors to The Bahamas are fully vaccinated, with six percent of those unvaccinated being children under the age of 12 who do not yet qualify for the vaccine.

More than 8 billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered globally, with aggressive vaccination campaigns taking place in countries around the world, including right here at home.

The vaccine continues to be a critical step towards combatting the pandemic and reinvigorating The Bahamas’ tourism-driven economy.

Studies also shows that our visitors prefer travelling to destinations where there is a high vaccination uptake.

All eligible citizens and residents of The Bahamas are encouraged to get vaccinated and can make an appointment at vax.gov.bs.

So, I repeat as of Monday December 13th, no travel health visa required for Bahamians and Residents of the Bahamas. So, promised. So, delivered.

May God bless the Exumas and Ragged Island, and may God bless the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.