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Minister forced to intervene as residents still being stopped from travelling to Bermuda

Mixed messages: Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Travelling residents are still being blocked from boarding flights to Bermuda because travel regulations listed on Government’s website have not been updated, it has been revealed.

Last Friday, Government jettisoned a controversial directive grounding any traveller – including residents – who had not obtained a Government-issued Travel Authorisation document prior to their flight.

But Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, last night said that airlines were still following instructions given on the Bermuda Government website – which still states that any traveller without Travel Authorisation must not be permitted to board.

Speaking on ZBM News, Mr Scott said that he was forced to contact airline chiefs yesterday to set the record straight.

He said that Government notified the International Air Transport Association (IATA) of the change in policy last Friday.

Mr Scott said: “What has happened is the fact that the airlines have looked at the Government website verses the directive that was given to them officially through IATA. That directive states that Bermudians, or residents thereof, should not be denied boarding due to a lack of a Travel Authorisation.

“What has happened this weekend is the airlines have started using what is on the Government website, which says all persons must have a Travel Authorisation.

“Every day that we have been informed of customers or Bermudians being denied boarding we have followed up with IATA.

“Today when we were made aware that Bermudians were still being denied boarding. I personally called the airlines and the decision-makers in the airlines myself, and informed them that they are not to deny Bermudians travel or boarding when returning home due to the lack of a Travel Authorisation.”

Mr Scott said he understood the frustrations of travellers and said that he had faced problems when trying to board a flight recently.

He pointed out that airlines faced heavy fines if they allow an unauthorised person onto a flight and therefore always “erred on the side of caution”.

Mr Scott said that Government’s website was now being updated.

But last night it still stated that “all travellers – Visitors and Residents – must receive an approved Bermuda COVID-19 Travel Authorisation 1 to 3 days prior to arriving in Bermuda”.

The Royal Gazette has also obtained copies of Travel Authorisations notices e-mailed to travellers by Government as late as last night which still point out that they can be barred from flying if they don’t have the required documents.

The e-mail reads: “IMPORTANT: The airlines require Bermuda Travel Authorisation document at the check-in. You will be denied boarding should you not be able to present the document.”

Confusion over the requirements needed to fly to Bermuda arose last Tuesday after Kim Wilson, the health minister, insisted that anyone flying to Bermuda would not be allowed to board their flight if they did not have a Government-issued Travel Authorisation form.

That policy was questioned by the One Bermuda Alliance, which claimed on Friday morning that it was unconstitutional.

Then, on Friday evening David Burt, the Premier, admitted that the policy had been scrapped because it was illegal. He also said that IATA had been informed of the change and that airlines would be notified.

He later claimed that Government had “had to work with our airline partners to ensure that they have the correct information”.

He added: “The adoption of new and different restrictions has been a challenge throughout this pandemic, but these changes were announced on Tuesday as part of the regular Covid press conference, and so any suggestion that notice of the changes was any later is simply false.”

Yesterday a Government spokeswoman confirmed that another controversial travel policy was now under review.

The spokeswoman said that travellers arriving in Bermuda could be ordered to quarantine for 14 days – even though they may be immunised and test negative for Covid-19 – if a fellow passenger tested positive.

The policy was highlighted by Mark Wilson and his wife, who flew to Bermuda from their home in North Carolina last Saturday to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.

The couple had both been vaccinated and tested negative for the virus shortly before their trip.

They produced another set of negative results when tested on arrival at the airport.

But the following day Mr Wilson was contacted by a Government official who said that another passenger on their flight had tested positive – and that he and his wife would now have to spend their vacation in quarantine.

Mr Wilson was told that 15 other passengers on the flight were also ordered to quarantine.

The couple were eventually able to avoid quarantining after agreeing to return home immediately.

Mr Wilson said: “Nobody at our resort was ever told that my wife and I had to quarantine. never did anyone arrive to give us red wrist bands to signify that we were to be quarantined.

“I was told via phone call from the Health Ministry Covid Tracking Department supervisor that my wife and I would be allowed to leave the island if we could get on a flight that day.”

Yesterday a Government spokeswoman said: “When a flight lands in Bermuda with a positive coronavirus case onboard, to date the Ministry of Health has followed the WHO guidance about exposure risk.

“This dictates that any person seated within two seats of the identified case is considered a close contact and therefore required to quarantine. However this policy is under review.”

Mr Wilson replied: “We were just two of 17 people who were being required to quarantine. Either this statement of sitting within two seats of a positive PCR tested passenger is inaccurate or a mistake in the Health Ministry’s protocols as this was not the case.

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Published June 24, 2021 at 11:53 am (Updated June 24, 2021 at 8:58 pm)

Minister forced to intervene as residents still being stopped from travelling to Bermuda

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