I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson and the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain, as we elaborate on the statements made in the House of Assembly today regarding the updates to COVID-19 public health regulations, schools moving to Phase 2, and items pertaining to our borders and tourism.
First, I would like to take a moment to address the issue of Tynes Bay on which the Acting Minister of Public Works gave a statement to the House of Assembly this morning.
It is unconscionable that in 2021 we are forced to return – even temporarily – to landfilling our solid waste. What I find personally upsetting is the fact that we may be forced to do this at Marsh Folly. The people who live in this area do not deserve this, and I can assure them and the public that whilst our hope is that we don’t have to do this, if we do, it will be for the shortest possible time – while we explore alternatives.
The people of Bermuda continue to endure the results of a nightmare one-term Government who happily signed away our rights to the airport and broke the bank to support the America’s Cup – all while neglecting critical maintenance at Tyne’s Bay citing lack of budget – those decisions are costing the treasury daily, and also are now affecting our natural environment.
The Public Works team continues to work day and night to deal with these issues, and I am grateful for their approach to the problems that have been measured, thoughtful, and in some cases remarkable as they do all that they can to provide this very important service.
I want to publicly thank the team at Tyne’s Bay for their dedication in looking to resolve the issues the plant is facing – they have gone above and beyond for the people of Bermuda. And, I want to send a special thank you to the team that is working at Tynes Bay because you are doing your best. I have heard first-hand the stories of your dedication to working under incredibly difficult circumstances, and I want to say that your efforts are appreciated; they are noted and thank you on behalf of the Cabinet.
I The last outbreak was incredibly taxing on the teams at the Ministry of Health and also the Hospital. Certainly, the teams over at education have done an excellent job of getting our students back in school and making sure we adjust the right precautions to keep our students in school.
The updates provided today are significant signs that Bermuda is continuing to move beyond the pandemic. We are able to do this due to the decrease in transmission as well as our continually improving vaccination rate. These positive statistics are due to Bermudians playing their part in helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus and taking personal steps to ensure they and those around them are protected by getting vaccinated.
As we make progress locally, we must also ensure that the requirements at our borders allow us to remain competitive and support our economic recovery, our tourism and hospitality industry and the Bermudians who work within it.
As announced by the Minister of Health, we will be changing the pre-test requirement to accept certified antigen tests, which are less expensive and easier for travellers to Bermuda to acquire. The Minister was very clear that these are observed and certified and that this cannot just be done by someone at home by themselves. We need to make sure that the people who are travelling are actually being tested. While visitors will still require an arrival PCR test done at the airport, we are working to safely eliminate the requirement to quarantine while awaiting those results. These changes will allow visitors to enjoy Bermuda and its local amenities quickly without an extended period of quarantine upon arrival – something that does not apply in many competing jurisdictions.
For visitors staying seven days or less, the only additional testing required to be done on the island will be the testing needed to return to their destination. Further – we are working to ensure that any antigen tests done after arrival will be administered at the hotel or guesthouse that the visitor is staying in – to remove the requirement to travel to a location to be tested.
While these adjustments are designed to make the visitor experience simpler and support our economic recovery, they do not negate the need for all persons, including visitors, to continue to observe the basic public health guidelines of good hand-hygiene, physical distancing, and mask-wearing when indoors or where physical distancing is not possible.
The changes we are able to make at our borders are again due to our own success with vaccinations here in Bermuda, as well as the high vaccination rates of countries from which the majority of our visitors come. They are also necessary to ensure that we remain competitive in the tourism market. As we look to the upcoming New Year and the new tourism season, it is critical that we adapt our approach in support of local businesses and the jobs they provide for Bermudians. It is vital that we do this now so that our tourism partners know in advance and can plan for next season.
Choosing not to adapt our approach could see tourists picking other destinations that are less restrictive to enjoy their vacation and airlines making the decision to fly elsewhere as they cannot fill their planes to come to Bermuda. This would further impact already struggling businesses and jobs. We cannot allow this to happen. We must balance protecting public health with an approach that aids our economic recovery, encourages visitors to choose Bermuda as their destination, and supports local businesses. The Government firmly believes that the direction we are moving, outlined today, will do just that. It is very important with the news of a new variant that has been identified that Bermuda must continue to strike the right balance at the border. It is important to note that there are some persons who want no restrictions at all, but having lived through multiple waves, it is vital that we do what we can to protect ourselves at the border to ensure and minimise the possibility of the importation of additional variants.
As I close, I thank the people of Bermuda for the collective work we have done as a country to get to where we are today. I appreciate that it has not been easy, but we will continue to overcome the challenges we face by working together and by each of us taking the personal responsibility to continue to adhere to public health guidelines that will help to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and that is a critical point in assisting with the economic recovery Bermuda.
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