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Health minister: more TA improvements in the pipeline

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Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (File photograph)

Changes to the Travel Authorisation process for passengers of three cruise lines were announced by the Minister of Health yesterday.

Kim Wilson said that those travellers no longer needed to upload negative coronavirus test results and instead had them checked before boarding.

A government spokeswoman confirmed later that the new procedure started last month.

Ms Wilson also said that further improvements for Travel Authorisation approvals were on the horizon.

She explained: “All travellers can start the TA process up to 30 days before their departure date.

“They can go online, fill out the form, upload the vaccination certificate and pay $40.

“Applying for a TA early is strongly recommended.

“All travellers will initially receive a ‘pending review’ response and then later, an e-mail is sent closer to their travel date reminding them to upload their negative test result.

“The TA review is completed once the test is uploaded and at that point the traveller receives a final response.

“Residents who do not intend to upload a pre-arrival test will receive an approved TA based on their vaccination certificate and they will be tested on arrival at the LF Wade International Airport.”

Ms Wilson added: “Cruise passengers with Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines, who are the majority of our cruise visitors, will get an approved TA based on their vaccination certificates.

“Their negative test result is checked at the pier when they board the ship and they do not need to upload it.”

The minister said that the forms were prioritised by arrival date for people travelling by air and by departure date for those who arrive by sea.

She highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic was not over and that the island still had “many” travel-related cases.

Ms Wilson said most travellers had no problems with the TA forms but that when delays occurred, they were usually linked to passengers applying at short notice.

She added: “Travellers can avoid being denied boarding by applying for their Travel Authorisation at least two days prior to their departure date but certainly not later that 24 hours before.

“Travel documents are reviewed daily between 8am and 8pm.”

Wayne Caines, a Progressive Labour Party back bench MP and the chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said in the House of Assembly last week that he had heard concerns about the need for several members of the same family to fill out the TA form.

He said that an algorithm would be used to save information so that the entire application did not have to be completed every time.

Mr Caines told MPs that complaints were made about people waiting on the phone for too long when they called for help with the process.

Ms Wilson said yesterday that the health ministry would keep working to simplify and improve the application process.

She added: “We are also looking and hoping to be able to announce the full implementation of the ‘family TA’, which is the one that MP Caines was speaking about, where you can upload all the details with respect to all members travelling at the same time.

“Likewise, we’re looking at implementing a process that will allow for the frequent flyers to upload all of their details once and then just upload their respective arrival tests.”

She added that announcements on the changes would be made in “very short order”.

Ms Wilson said that technology and more call handlers had helped to address waiting times when people phoned for assistance.

The minister added that the changes made to travel approvals for cruise ship passengers had “greatly reduced” the volume of calls.

Ms Wilson confirmed the TA form would remain in place until March next year.

She added that the process was to “protect our borders” and be aware of imported coronavirus cases.

The minister said: “The TAs pay for the pandemic support that they provide – testing at the borders, return testing for visitors travelling to or through the United States, which is much cheaper than most countries charge for departure tests.

“It helps to pay for case management for those who test positive and the associated administration.

“The TA also captures information used by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, and the Department of Immigration, as well as HM Customs.”

Shadow minister says changes should be for all travellers

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister for Health and Seniors, said that the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance was “comforted to some extent” to know that changes were made to the TA process but added: “It doesn’t go far enough.”

He highlighted: “In my view, it creates a two-tier system – one system for air travellers who still have to submit their negative antigen test, but cruise ship passengers just have to show it.

“So if you allow cruise ship passengers to show it, why can’t you just allow air passengers to show it, rather than submit it?”

Mr Dunkley added: “What I have been pushing for, for months now, is that if the Government feels that they need to have a negative antigen test done within a couple of days of coming to Bermuda, and submitted online for ease of travel, they should change the system to make it much less cumbersome and causing anxiety for people and do it like the American system – where all you have to do is fill out a form and when you check in at the airline, you show the form filled out that shows you are vaccinated and you show your negative test and you move on.”

He said: “We want everyone who wants to come to Bermuda to have a good time, enjoy our country, spend some money, help get Bermudians employed again and get us out of this rut.

“We don’t want to have people complaining that they’re not coming here they’re going somewhere else.”

A news bulletin sent by e-mail from the BTA yesterday morning said that air arrival travellers could apply for and buy a TA “up to one month in advance, beginning this month”.

It added: “In keeping with pledges to improve the Travel Authorisation form process, the Ministry of Health has worked to address the efficiency of the form and ensure visitors to the island encounter a smooth and pleasant entry.”

Charles Jeffers II, the BTA chief executive, welcomed the extension and said: “Discussions are ongoing to redefine and redesign the Travel Authorisation to make it easier and simpler for everyone.

“As the island experiences a significant up-tick in visitors by air and sea, it is imperative we have the necessary tools to navigate them towards an untroubled, relaxed vacation.”

Ms Wilson confirmed that the month-long window to begin an application was introduced at least as early as April.

But she added: “ … we’ve taken more steps to encourage the BTA to also speak to their stakeholders and their travel partners and their visitors to help to re-emphasise the messaging that, yes, you can upload your TA information up to 30 days in advance.”

A BTA spokeswoman said later that an “official announcement from government” was made today for the first time.

She added: “However, we understand the 30-day application window for TA travellers, whereby proof of vaccination can be verified ahead of time, has been in place for a few weeks.”

A government spokeswoman confirmed that travellers have always received a 'pending' message when they apply for Travel Authorisation.

To read the minister’s remarks in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published June 10, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated June 10, 2022 at 7:57 am)

Health minister: more TA improvements in the pipeline

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