COVID-19 update - 6 October - Premier Burt remarks
Good afternoon Bermuda and welcome members of the media her today.
I am honoured to sit here again this week following last week’s General Election. I am joined at our weekly COVID update by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will provide an update from her Ministry. Following her update I will touch on a few matters before we take questions from members of the media.
Thank you Minister of Health.
Looking back on the recently held General Election, on behalf of the entire country, I wholeheartedly commend the Parliamentary Registrar, Ms. Tenia Woolridge, for surpassing her office’s usual high standards to meet unprecedented circumstances.
While it may be tempting to focus on the results, the Registrar is truly an unsung heroine, who quietly, but masterfully, goes about her duties and obligations to Bermudian voters to ensure elections are beyond reproach, accurate and fair. I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to her and to her entire team at the Parliamentary Registrar’s Office.
I know how people and certain roles can be taken for granted, so I wish to note a few of the developments that were undertaken for the first time last week.
First, of course, there was, in the election, the opportunity to vote in the Advanced Poll was extended to all seniors, allowing a greater share of voters to exercise their constitutional rights without the worry of exposure to large crowds.
Second, the Registrar’s Returning Officers availed themselves of testing in order to carry out their vital public service; and they had to be trained on COVID-19 protocols, and new election rules.
Third, in partnership with Vision Bermuda the Registrar successfully introduced Tactile Audio Devices; machines that gave visually impaired voters privacy for the first time by allowing them to vote without someone watching them mark their ballots.
I know there are further accomplishments for which the Registrar and her team deserve credit; Ms. Woolridge marshaled her staff and they more than rose to the occasion – accordingly, I applaud everyone involved in producing and managing what was a safe, fair, and very efficient election.
When it comes to coronavirus related matters that have a direct impact on Bermudians, there is an issue that has recently arisen where the State of New York recently included Bermuda on a list of countries from which arriving passengers would have to quarantine on arrival.
It is well known that Bermuda boasts a testing regime that tests the most amount of persons per capita, currently and we are now, I think, fifth or sixth in the world in testing per capita, more than most countries on the planet and has extremely stringent requirements to be able to enter Bermuda. So we certainly do not agree with the new designation which has been put inside of the state of New York. Especially when we are only showing two active cases.
Technically, the list is derived by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the CDC list which deems Bermuda a Level 2 COVID-19 risk – meaning the risk in Bermuda is moderate, and new cases are decreasing or stable.
To further apply context, the UK Government’s current advice about Bermuda is,
“Bermuda is exempt from the Foreign, Commonwealth, Development advice against all non-essential international travel. This is based on the current assessment of risks.”
We are grateful for the reasonable position that the United Kingdom has adopted; and we are working to seek a modification of the CDC advice, (before they had us at Level 3, now they have us at Level 2, which is causing some issues with travel to New York, so we are looking to see if we can get that further modified) to ensure that its guidance reflects the reality in Bermuda, and even more tourists feel safe travelling and visiting our island.
As a result of the issue when it comes to safety, I am would like to provide you with three statistics that in a snapshot, reveal the state of the tourism industry, as we stand and where people consider it safe.
First, as would be expected, health and safety is the second most popular reason tourists are coming to Bermuda; beaches are still number one. However, with not many people travelling due to COVID-19, but it is logical that their primary consideration would be their health and safety;
Second, this is of local residents, in May, 50% of residents thought welcoming air passengers would pose a considerable risk to Bermuda’s health; now that number is only 12%, which recognizes that Bermudians have recognized that we can open our airport safely and have our tourists travel to Bermuda safely with excellent controls; finally
97% of tourists who have come to Bermuda since we reopened the airport, to regularly scheduled commercial traffic, have felt safe or completely safe during their trip.
We have built on our COVID-19 protocols and testing regime by telling the world that we are open, and we are providing a safe destination for persons to visit, as long as they follow the rules. As a result of the consistent work, that we have all done together, our tourism outlook for the fall is looking far more attractive than we anticipated a few months ago, and there will be a number of events that will be held in Bermuda.
On the 24 October, Bermuda will host the Rugby World Tens Series;
On the 25 October, the Bermuda Gold Cup Sailing event that was recently designated a ‘Match Racing World Championship Event’ will begin; and
On the 26 October, the PGA Tours’ Bermuda Championship will begin, and live spectators will be in attendance. This is the very first PGA Tour event to be contested in front of live spectators since the beginning of the pandemic. And yes, it is happening right here in beautiful and safe Bermuda.
Most Bermudians are aware of the economic importance of our tourism sector, and given the wider impact when visitors hire taxis, dine out, visit attractions, or rent vacation properties. The difficult but steady recovery in that industry will positively affect business owners, employees, and entrepreneurs alike. That is why is it vital for us to continue to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission by following the advice from the Minister of Health, as un-fun as it can be, no one wants us see what is happening in other jurisdictions, where things are being rolled back.
Before I close, I would like to speak to some of the economic challenges that will be buffeting our island over the coming months and years.
I have to say this before I close. Things will get worse in the Bermuda economy before they get better. And though we have been able to reopen our tourism industry to a small extent, though our international business industry is functioning well, there will be challenges inside of our economy. There are persons who are being laid off, and we do note, that there are persons being made redundant, our job as a newly elected government will be to take the best ideas and to work to accelerate our economic recovery. The one thing that I want all of Bermuda to know is there has never been before been a time like now that we have to continue to unify ourselves, to look out for our neighbours and to avail ourselves to the services that are being made available from the Government of Bermuda.
Before the election, I said that this Government would not stand by while people go hungry. After the election, our pledge is still the same. However, the times will get tough and it is important for us to remember that we are our brothers’ keeper and we have to continue to remain unified through the challenges ahead.
On Thursday, I will visit Government House to swear in a new Cabinet and the new Government will certainly address you next week as there are a number of economic matters that need to be spoken to for the public, so we can understand where we are, where we are going and how every can pitch in to help. With that, I’m happy to answer any questions from members of the media.