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TA forms protect island’s borders, say health chiefs

Protecting our borders: the Government has defended its Travel Authorisation form policy (File photograph)

The Government has defended its use of Travel Authorisation forms, stating that they are essential in protecting Bermuda’s borders from Covid-19.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health also dismissed reports that the form was deterring visitors, claiming that “the vast majority of travellers do not have an issue” with it.

On Monday the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance renewed calls for the form – which was introduced in 2020 in an effort to screen visitors for Covid-19 – to be scrapped.

Yesterday, the health department spokeswoman said: “The TAs serve a health purpose – they are there to protect our borders, to ensure we can catch any cases of Covid being imported.

“This protects both our visitors and residents. In addition data collected on the TA is used by both the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the Department of Immigration due to the elimination of the forms that were previously filled out by visitors to Bermuda.”

Critics have also claimed that the forms are a “stealth tax“ and are only in place because they bring in a fresh revenue stream. Visitors have to pay a $40 fee for the form, generated an estimated $14 million in fees for the Government last year.

The spokeswoman acknowledged that the extra cash was “important”, but said it was necessary to offset other Covid-related costs.

She said: “The TA fee is an important revenue source for the Government to help fund the island’s Covid-19 response, which has been extensive over the last two years with many free services, including Covid testing, mass vaccination and financial support.

“The revenue from the TA this year has prevented significant cuts in public services during this year’s budget and has allowed the Government to cut taxes for workers and reduce vehicle licensing fees for Bermudians while meeting Bermuda’s budget targets, which is essential for Bermuda’s long term economic future.”

The spokeswoman also rubbished claims that the form was deterring visitors from holidaying in Bermuda.

She said: “There is no data to support this. Tourism businesses have been told to brace for thousands of visitors as the Bermuda Tourism Authority predicts a strong summer season.

“Additionally, cruise ship visits to Bermuda are sold out and oversubscribed. This is producing great demand for TAs and we work weekly to address any challenges we encounter with processing TAs for our cruise partners.

“It should be noted that the vast majority of travellers do not have an issue with the TAs.”

The Government has said the TA policy would remain in place until at least March 2023, but there are plans to make the process simpler.

The spokeswoman said: “Previously, proof of vaccination and test certificates in the arrivals hall was attempted. This proved to be resource-intensive and slow and we had to change the process to assure a smooth flow of travellers.

“We have isolated challenges that we are working through.”