Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield said yesterday that there will likely be delays in the issuance of passports following a COVID-19 outbreak at the Passport Office.
“The Passport Office presents, for us, somewhat of a challenge in that coming out of this COVID environment where we had some relaxation in the way that people, who are fully vaccinated, want to travel,” Henfield said.
“There seems to have been some pent-up frustrations that kind of overwhelmed our collections area where we had gatherings that were not workable in the climate we’re in with COVID, and so we had somewhat of an outbreak. Unfortunately, one of our staff members passed. We believe it’s due to the pandemic.”
Henfield said four employees tested positive for COVID-19 and several others are quarantined.
He said the government is looking at alternative sites, including the Mall at Marathon, for passport drop-off and collection.
When asked if the outbreak will slow down the process of getting passports in a timely manner, he replied, “They’re going to slow down the process because they impact personnel. Despite the automated processes we have, we still need personnel to produce the booklet and to do other things that are necessary in the office.”
Henfield said it would be “reasonable” to conclude this meant delays.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised the public of the two-day closure of the Passport Office to allow the Ministry of Health’s surveillance team to conduct “a proper” contact tracing assessment of staff.
“The ministry recognizes that the summer months are a period of great demand for passport services and apologizes for the inconvenience caused by the temporary suspension of services,” it said.
“This year is particularly challenging as that normal summer demand is compounded by the pent-up demand brought on by COVID restrictions over the past year. The ministry is presently adopting innovative approaches to maintaining the efficient processing and issuing of passports, particularly through its online renewal portals, should there be a further delay in these services after the 48-hour closure of the office recommended by the Ministry of Health.
“The ministry advises that to meet the compounded pent-up demand, some aspects of service may be taken offsite. In addition, the Passport Office will soon introduce an appointment system to deal with first-time applicants, in an attempt to better regulate the traffic accessing these services. The public is asked to stay tuned for announcements on these initiatives.”