Sweeping Changes to COVID-19 Travel Rules

The Turks and Caicos Islands Government has approved sweeping changes to its COVID-19 rules by cutting the testing to arrival window while relaxing the types of tests that would be accepted.

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Beginning Wednesday, July 28, the new rules to the Arriving Passengers Health Clearance Regulations will see the country, in addition to Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), beginning to accept Nucleic Acid Amplification test (NAA), Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and Antigen tests.


Additionally, government has approved cutting the testing to arrival window from five to three days.


Cabinet made the approval for the new measures at its latest meeting on Wednesday, July 21.

Minister of Health Hon. E. Jay Saunders said during a news conference last week that the five-day window could increase the possibility of persons travelling to the country contracting the Coronavirus after they had taken the test. He noted that cutting the window would reduce such risk.


Prior to signing off on the courses of action, a high-level tourism and health ministry team, including Saunders and Tourism Minister Hon. Josephine Connolly, met with tourism interests, to gather their feedback.


Currently, the Turks and Caicos Islands only accept PCR test for persons who are not vaccinated residents traveling to the TCI.


The World Health Organization (WHO) lists the PCR, RNA and the NAA tests as being rather similar, saying they are used to directly screen for the presence of viral Ribonucleic acid, which will be detectable in the body before antibodies form or symptoms of the disease are present. This means the tests can tell whether or not someone has the virus very early on in their illness.


According to the Dr. Hanna Balkhy of the WHO, the antigen testing that exists now in the market is referred to as antigen rapid diagnostic tests, which look for the antigen on the outer surface of the virus itself.


She said further that they have been developed to test anywhere, including at the bedside or in the field, and so, do not need the sophisticated laboratory setting to conduct them.


She said though that false-negative results tend to occur more often with antigen tests than with molecular tests.


The move by government to relax the testing guidelines could exponentially increase the air trafficking into the Turks and Caicos Islands, as the test easement could fuel quicker turnaround time for the guests, making it easier for them to make travel arrangements.

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