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Bahamas Locks Down Grand Bahama — And Locks Out U.S. Tourists — To Control COVID-19

Boats docked on Abaco island in the Bahamas.
Bahamas Tourism Ministry
Boats docked on Abaco island in the Bahamas.

This week the Bahamas is closing its doors to American tourists in an effort to keep the new coronavirus from spreading on its islands. But the decision is based not just on the explosion of COVID-19 cases in the United States – but a sudden spike in the Bahamas too.

Starting Wednesday, the Bahamas will — for the time being — ban commercial flights and ships from the U.S. and most other countries except Canada, Britain and the European Union.

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Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said because COVID-19 is still raging in the U.S., the Bahamas had to reverse its earlier decision to open up again. Most of the 5.5 million tourists who visit the Bahamas each year are from the U.S., especially Florida.

"Our current situation demands decisive action if we are to avoid being overrun and being defeated by this virus," Minnis said on Sunday.

The Bahamas does have reason to worry about the pandemic getting worse there. The country’s population is fewer than 400,000; and it’s recorded fewer than 200 coronavirus cases and only 11 deaths. Still, more than a quarter of those cases have emerged just since last Saturday.

As a result, the Bahamian government has now ordered a two-week lockdown for the country’s largest island, Grand Bahama, starting Thursday.

Private planes and boats may still come to the Bahamas from the U.S., but passengers must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test from a lab.

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Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.