Updated: Sep 30, 2022 10:40 AM
Phased approach: Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (File photograph)
The Government is to phase out all Covid-19 public safety measures — including the controversial Travel Authorization Form — in three stages over the next two months.
But no decision has been made on whether travelers will still have to fill out alternative paperwork or pay a fee when entering the country.
The announcement was made by Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, at a press conference yesterday.
The form was introduced in June 2020 to monitor the Covid-19 status of arrivals, including proof of travel health insurance. Travelers have to pay a $40 fee to complete the document.
Initially the Government said the measure was necessary to protect Bermuda’s borders — but acknowledged later that it also provided a necessary source of revenue. The Government is expected to earn $22 million from the TA this year.
The Government had previously insisted that the measure would remain until March 2023, despite repeated calls by critics for it to be scrapped.
Ms Wilson said: “I appreciate there will be many questions regarding the future of the travel authorization. It is important to recognize that health travel documents are not new to international travel.
“Certain countries have had entry requirements such as proof of yellow fever vaccination for a very long time now. The difference is that those types of entry requirements were limited to specific countries.
“However, the global pandemic caused the majority of countries around the world to implement and enforce Covid-19 travel document entry requirements.
“In Bermuda, the travel authorization has served as an effective part of our Covid border controls, and has provided key information to the Bermuda Tourism Authority as well as the Department of Immigration and HM Customs.
“The Government will be having further discussions regarding Bermuda’s travel entry requirements, taking into consideration what is appropriate and necessary in light of the ongoing pandemic. We will announce those decisions before November 30.”
Pressed on what form any new entry document might take, Ms Wilson replied: “Those are discussions that are ongoing within the Cabinet.
“As to what will be the border entry mechanism and whether that border entry mechanism will require any type of fee associated with that – those are all discussions and when decisions have been made you’ll be the first to know.
“The Cabinet is meeting to discuss what next steps are because as you can appreciate, countries around the world still have some kind of entry requirement – whether it’s the pink form that everyone’s familiar with or other documentation – those are discussions that Cabinet’s having to ascertain what information and what will be the entry requirements for coming into Bermuda and that information will be made public as soon as soon as those decisions have been made.”
Outlining the “road map“ in which public safety measures will be phased out, Ms Wilson said that mask-wearing protocols will be scaled back from next Monday, when they will be limited to health service facilities, rest homes and corrections facilities
Mask wearing will be optional for passengers on public transport, taxis, minibuses, and limousines, as well as for those working at or passing through the airport.
From October 25, the requirement for pre-arrival and pre-departure testing, arrival testing, and day-four testing for travelers will be dropped. The requirement for unvaccinated visitors to provide proof of health insurance which covers Covid medical expenses will remain.
All mask mandates and border controls related to Covid-19 will end on November 30.
Ms Wilson said: “This enables a continued assessment of the prevalence of infection and its impact on our health system as the different public health and safety measures are amended or ceased.
“Many people will be pleased that the regulations are being removed, but this does not mean we can stop being responsible for our health and the health of others.
“The coronavirus continues to be a threat to our health and wellbeing, though not as substantial as it was this time last year.
“And while the public health emergency may be ending in Bermuda, the global pandemic continues. Although our number of positive coronavirus cases has declined significantly, we must not become complacent.”
Ms Wilson acknowledges concerns in Britain of a potential “twindemic” of Covid-19 and influenza looming as winter sets in.
She said: “We share those concerns. We know that everybody will start going indoors when it gets a little bit cold.
“We’re just encouraging persons to use their common sense and recognize that closed-in spaces and crowded places do have a breeding ground to help with any type of influenza as well as Covid.
“We’re just encouraging everyone to monitor their own health behaviours, monitor their locations, do what they can to help minimize the risk of themselves contracting it or spreading it.
“We must be careful and be safe, for ourselves and our community.”
Dunkley: Why wait?
The opposition One Bermuda Alliance said it was “pleased” that all public health emergency measures were to be lifted, but questioned why the move could not be made immediately.
Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister for National Security and a long-time critic of the restrictions, asked: “Why wait?
“We have called for the ending of the emergency measures and the Travel Authorization Form. We did not support the extension last time so obviously we are glad to see the Government commit to end it. But it should end now, not the end of November.
“We are aware of no reason for an extension until November 30, 2022, and the Government has not provided a case to continue it further.
“The Government’s release yesterday with the latest Covid numbers shows only 37 active cases with no one currently hospitalised. This is evidence that all measures should end, including the TA, now.
“The rest of the world is doing its best to move on but we are still imposing restrictions and they have hurt and will continue to hurt the island and our people.
“We call on the minister to provide the rationale for continuing with measures for another two months and also clarity on when the TA will end.
“While the Government contends the TA is an effective part of border control and provides key information to the BTA, Department of Immigration and HM Customs, we wonder why it took the Covid pandemic for the PLP Government to realize information was lacking.
“We believe that is an excuse to continue with the $40 tax for a bit longer.”
• UPDATE: this story has been amended with more details from the press conference