Today, I am joined today by the Minister of Health who will be providing an update to the public on the latest from her Ministry. Following that I will give an update on matters related to the Economy, Tourism, and Education.
Minister of Health: Kim Wilson COVID-19 update
Thank you Minister. I would like to echo your sentiments on the importance of residents getting a flu shots to protect against this year’s seasonal flu. This year it is vital that as many persons as possible avail themselves of the flu shot.
On the issue of letting our guard down – we have certainly seen a relaxation of attitudes towards the protections and actions which are necessary to keep us safe and most importantly to keep our economy healthy.
Bermudians do not need to be reminded, as we see it on the news every day, the increasing cases, the 2nd waves, the strict measures that impact the economy for countries in the Caribbean but also for countries in Europe. The virus is still a threat, and though you are as tired of hearing about it as I am talking about it, it doesn’t mean that it’s going away. We must continue to be vigilant.
Remember, in all likelihood this virus started from one person who was infected, and the entire world is now living through this pandemic. So it really only takes one person to start an outbreak here in Bermuda. That is why the Government will continue to press the message of enforcement, that is the reason why we will continue to remain vigilant, and that is why we will continue to encourage others in the community to remain vigilant, as the risks to our economy and our way of life is too great.
As I speak about the economy, I would like to share a story that those who follow US politics know well.
In 1992, former US President Bill Clinton was taking on incumbent president George HW Bush. Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville was trying to find a quick and effective way to explain to Clinton’s team the messages that they needed to focus on and hammer home to the American People.
The message that resonated, and which caused Bill Clinton to win that election was: “It’s The Economy, Stupid”. In other words, no matter what else was going on, no matter what other grand plans they had, nothing else mattered as much as fixing the Economy. Now, nearly 30 years later, there cannot be a Government on the planet who does not have some concern about the performance of its economy and is telling themselves “it’s the economy”.
And as Bermuda earns most of its foreign exchange from providing services to others, either in International Business or Tourism, we are not immune to the global shocks that are reverberating around our world; more so given the fact that we have a significant tourism economy.
And so with the mantra: “It’s the Economy” ringing in Cabinet’s ears, we have set out to restore our Economy, and regain the enviable positions we had in 2019. I say enviable because there are some facts wish are important to share:
The last time GDP was higher than 2019 was in 2013.
There were more Bermudians working by December 2019 than at any time since 2014; and
More Tourists came to Bermuda in 2019 than at any time in the last 10 years.
I know there can be a lot of misinformation during election periods, but now that those times are behind us, I wanted to share that objective data that while previously reported, sometimes gets lost in the cut and thrust and the back and forth of politics.
However, with that said, October 2020 is not 2019, and while it may be good to look backwards our economy is certainly challenged today. The Government is working with employers and is receiving regular notifications of redundancies or restructuring which are necessary due to the business conditions caused by the pandemic.
We get the numbers, and we all hear them, but it is important for us to remember that each of those numbers represents a family, someone whose career may have been cut short, a provider for a senior or a young person who is now feeling very uncertain about the future.
I do not want anyone watching or listening to me now to think that the Government is blind or deaf to the challenges being faced by families and the incredible stress that the economic uncertainty causes.
I had a phone call from a constituent yesterday, who had been informed that the position at their job that they have been working at for a very long time, has been made redundant. They were seeking help and answers. That is why it formed a significant part of our Cabinet meeting today, the first Cabinet meeting of the new Government.
I would like to let members of the public know that next Monday, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labour will hold a joint press conference and will update the public on the work being done to support those that are being displaced from work and also to speak about the measures that are being put in place to jumpstart and to continue the work to stimulate our economy. It is important and that is the number one focus of the Government. That is why we have to focus on what is working and develop as much as we can with our tourism economy.
Last week I proudly highlighted three international sporting events that Bermuda will host just in October: Gold Cup Sailing, World Tens Rugby, and PGA Championship Golf.
If these events were happening in any given July, we would be proud and happy; the fact that we are hosting these events in October, during a pandemic, when getting flights here is not easy, is clear testament to the work of which we have done thus far.
Our tourism industry will be boosted not only by the participants who have flown in to compete, but since our protocols have allowed us to successfully manage COVID-19’s impact, we were also able to promote Bermuda as a safe jurisdiction. Accordingly, in addition to hosting organisers and sponsors from three separate tournaments, we will also welcome the competitors’ families, support teams, spectators, and fans.
At present the only airlines who have not resumed their flights to Bermuda since the pandemic are WestJet and United Airlines. The others are flying at reduced capacity partly due to COVID-19: i.e. Delta and JetBlue do not sell their middle seats; and partly due to customer demand: which is why we must constantly tell the world we are open for business.
Clearly there are also other challenges which the Government is working on, specifically the issue with Canada and the Canadian flights which were cut back because of the restrictions which were put in place for visitors to Canada, which is an issue that we continue to work on and additionally there is the other issue which has recently occurred with the New York quarantine and the State of New York. There is continued work and effort there and if we do not resolve that issue, it can lead to a continued reduction of flights, and what we want to do is our best to make sure that we avoid that.
The more people demanding to fly to Bermuda, the more flight capacity we will have, and that will cause us to continue to support our tourism industry during the winter.
As airlines struggle to restore their flights and to fly profitable routes, Bermuda’s Hospitality Industry will gradually be greater served, and we are certainly seeing some level of improvement.
Further to those efforts to show and tell the people that Bermuda is still “Another World”, I would like to provide an update on our ‘Work from Bermuda’ Initiative. I am pleased to report that since the Initiative was launched on 1st August, we have received 452 Applications. Of the 452 Applicants, 354 were approved and we look forward to a high percentage of them working and residing in Bermuda.
And in addition to hosting International Sporting Events, rising Tourist arrivals, Airlines increasing their capacity, and our Work from Bermuda Initiative, we cannot underestimate what the change from London Gatwick to London Heathrow will mean for our tourism industry next year.
Although the change does not start until next March, the buzz that it is already causing in the Business and Leisure Travel sectors makes us optimistic for the 2021 tourism season; publications as diverse as Forbes, Loop News in the Caribbean, and TripAdvisor carried the exciting news. Tourism and Hospitality’s future is certainly better served, and Bermuda will always judge ourselves by how our competitors are doing and because of the excellent work of the Ministry of Health team and others, we are certainly in a better place.
I wish to very briefly share data about the other pillar of our economy, International Business. According to a recently released report from ABIR-The Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, 2019 represented the highest number of Bermudians working in the Industry since 2016.
I understand that Education is about more than finding a good job, but in order to take advantage of opportunities that do pay high salaries, we must ensure our children are educated and prepared to be global citizens. It is because of our commitment to Bermuda’s students that I cannot wait to see the work that the Ministry of Education is about to undertake.
Further to our intentions and efforts to overhaul the delivery of Public Education to Bermuda’s Students – phasing out middle schools and introducing Signature schools at the Secondary Level, the Ministry reached out to educators and members of the community seeking participants to serve on ‘School Redesign Teams’. These teams will participate in the design, prototype, and testing of the new technologies and practices that will empower students. Since the teams will be comprised of professional educators, community mentors, parents, employers, and others, the process will ensure that the education system that we are consulting on, produces well-rounded graduates who can confidently pursue whichever path they choose: trades, tertiary education, or entrepreneurship.
Accordingly, I recommend that parents and others sign up to be a part of this process for change and if you wish to join the transition which is taking part inside of education in Bermuda, I urge you to visit the website, learningfirstbda.com. On that website you will be able to sign up, register your interest, submit an expression of interest form to participate on the school redesign teams and you’ll be able to get information on the exciting work that is taking place in regards to the redesign of our public education system.
As the Minister of Education said during the election campaign, it is our expectation to work to introduce the first signature schools during the next school year. But, we want to ensure that the community is going along with us on the journey and is buying in. So please visit learningfirstbda.com so that you can join in with this effort.
So as I close, it is no question that during this fall we are in the midst of a very turbulent period, which is towards the end of a very turbulent year. And, just as we have worked together as a country to get through the challenges of which we face so far in 2020 that will be ever more important over the next few months.
It is without question going to get bumpy, and as I have acknowledged previously, there are going to be fears and doubts, but as we live on this island together, let us be in no doubt whatsoever that working together we will be able to overcome these challenges. The government is laser focused on the work which is necessary to improve the economy and we will stop at nothing to make sure that what we do is get our people back to work so that we can have a standard of living after this pandemic that actually makes sure that the people of this country can afford to live here, and continue to live here in comfort.