Premier David Burt acknowledged the fact that the public’s patience with COVID restrictions was growing thin, when he announced that most of them, with the exception of two, will end on Sunday, June 20.

Speaking at the latest COVID-19 briefing last night, he said mask wearing in indoor public places will continue and gatherings of more than 100 people will be allowed.

He also stated that more than ten people could sit at a table at restaurants but the boating restrictions  and the curfew ends on Sunday.

“In short, you can sit more than ten to a table in a restaurant, you can stay out past midnight, and there will not be any restrictions on activities on land and on the water,” said Mr Burt.

“And, in most circumstances, you will not require a mask outdoors any more.”

But he said: “It is important for everyone to note that we are not claiming an end to the pandemic.

“The Government is able to confidently end restrictions due our success in reducing local transmission, increasing vaccinations, and by implementing strict controls at our borders to protect our island from dangerous variants. We can open up our island because we will protect our borders.”

Highlights of the Premier’s full statement:

For more than a year now we have endured tests on our resilience, the likes of which we have not seen in a century. We have all lived through a time of unparalleled challenges, frustrations, and restrictions on our everyday lives that we could never have dreamed of. Throughout it all we have been resilient, and we have been united.

I recognise that even the most resilient of persons can grow weary when constantly tested. It is clear throughout the world and here on our own island, that persons are eager to see the end of lockdowns, the end of restrictions and a return to normality. Unfortunately for many countries this is simply not possible due to the continuing presence of the coronavirus, and the spread of new highly transmissible variants.

Just yesterday the UK government announced a four week delay to the end of their restrictions. Singapore remains in a phased and cautious reopening. Canada continues to maintain strict border and local restrictions, and in Melbourne, Australia, persons are not allowed to have visitors in their home.

However, here in Bermuda, our progress of moving beyond the pandemic is as evident as ever. Tonight, it will be announced that all local restrictions, with the exception of two rules regarding mask-wearing in indoor public places and restrictions on large groups, will come to an end on Sunday, June 20 at 5am…

If there is any doubt on the impact variant spread can have on plans to re-open our economy and end restrictions, I refer persons to my earlier comments on the UK where the end of their restrictions has been delayed for another month due to the spread of the Indian or Delta variant. All that separates Bermuda from the introduction of a variant onto our shores is a nonstop flight from the U.K where case numbers have returned to levels not seen in four months in a matter of weeks. Relaxing our guard at this time could potentially delay the reopening of these Islands for months.

Risk-based policy often defies logic. That simply means it can be difficult to make sense of it all. Sometimes that policy can be the source of a passing comment or a moment of reflection. But where that policy implements a restriction on freedoms we ordinarily enjoy, the risk is clearly great…

I respect the right of people to not be immunized and that is why the government has never sought to make vaccination mandatory. I respect the personal choice of an unimmunized person to risk travelling to a location overseas which may have a prevalence of variants. But the potential consequences of those personal risks taken must be mitigated by the Government’s duty to keep Bermuda safe.

The Government also recognises that there are residents abroad, who through no fault of their own, are not able to get vaccinated. For those persons who left Bermuda before May 6, when mandatory supervised quarantine was announced, and who are not able to be vaccinated in the country they are in, the Government will cover the cost of the supervised quarantine as was mentioned by the Minister of Health. 

These persons are not exempt from having to quarantine, but the costs will be fully covered for their stay in a designated facility. We envision this group will consist mainly of our students overseas, but this applies to any person who fits this criteria – so you may be a resident overseas with your child in a football academy, or overseas working in a place where there is no access to the vaccine. As you left the country before the policy was announced, we look forward to welcoming you back and making sure you can safely quarantine before reentering the general population. 

Our students coming home, especially from the UK, please be safe, take care of yourselves as the Delta variant is spreading in the United Kingdom…

With the ending of restrictions, there will undoubtedly be an increase of activity over the upcoming holiday weekend. While we are in an enviable position as a country to open up, we must also remember that the pandemic is not over and we must remain vigilant as we go about our days. Bermuda is fortunate to have tools at our disposal to help us reduce the risk of coronavirus spread, the newest of which is SafeKey…

You can renew your SafeKey for another month, by going to gov.bm/safekey. There is a link at the top of the page for you to click, and enter your surname and e-mail. You will then be sent a new link via email to renew your SafeKey and vaccination certificate. The renewed SafeKeys will expire on July 15, at which time all SafeKeys will move to a rolling date as originally announced.

SafeKey will continue to be required for large events above the maximum size of 100. And while SafeKey is no longer required for daily activities, anyone can use it for private functions such as a house party. SafeKey’s accessibility and ease of use makes it a helpful tool to have on hand to give everyone peace of mind.

In the two months since I first announced Bermuda’s Plan to Move Beyond the Pandemic, which included supervised quarantine to protect our borders from new variants, social media platforms and even more traditional communications have been overrun with crass and, quite frankly, threatening messages. It is perhaps the tension of the times that has led to an abandonment of our historic ability as Bermudians to disagree without being disagreeable. I fully appreciate the anger and while I may disagree with the manner in which it is expressed, I understand it.

Leadership means being prepared to sacrifice popularity for principle and duty. In this case the principle is one I am sworn to uphold. It is my duty as Premier of this country to do my best to keep the people of Bermuda safe, and it is that duty that I and the Government have placed above all others throughout this pandemic. 

It would be easy to yield and give in to the pressure of the very loud voices raised daily in condemnation of our decisions. To yield may achieve temporary quiet and appease some but it would not provide safety for our country. This Government has chosen safety over expediency because true leadership, especially in these times, demands such choices. 

When I look at other countries where there are similar choices to be made. Matched with equal levels of frustration and leaders in similar unenviable positions, safety outweighs expediency every time. The ability to operate normally here at home is now squarely dependent on the protections we impose and enforce at our borders. It is that simple. 

Is it ideal to impose such restrictions on the free movement of people? Of course not. Is it the Government’s desire to persist in limiting group sizes and the time people must be indoors? Definitely not.  I will continue to say that as Premier and as a citizen of this country I do not like that I have to do this. The Cabinet does not like that we have to do this. The Legislators do not like that we have to do this. We do not like the curfew. We do not like restrictions, nor do we enjoy imposing such strict protections at our borders. 

But the record of our management of the pandemic over these last 15 months will show that we have not only successfully contained outbreaks when they arose, and protected our healthcare system and our community, but we have done so through a balanced approach which allowed for safe economic activity. Our record will also show that wherever we can safely remove restrictions we do so and in the coming months the exact same approach will be taken.

As we open up our country, we need to restore some focus to our society because moving beyond the pandemic also means moving beyond these temporary disputes and coming together to address how we will lift people up after this economic decline; how we will once again get back in the tourism business and how we will achieve affordable healthcare for all. Those things are priorities now and await us beyond the pandemic too. That work can only receive the attention and effort so desperately needed if we protect Bermuda at the border and provide the space for us to do what is needed for our people. 

In order to ensure that moving beyond the pandemic is more than a catchphrase and for it to become reality, there can be no more lockdowns and curfews. We have far bigger things to debate than raft-ups. In the midst of these arguments we have a crisis of affordable housing. 

While we forward the latest memes and WhatsApp messages, a single mother is trying to make up her rental arrears so she and her child don’t go homeless, these are the issues that the Government must be committed to addressing.

As I close, and as we look forward to the upcoming holiday weekend and celebrate National Heroes Day, I ask that we remember the heroes of Bermuda’s rich and proud history. I also ask that we keep the heroes of our present in our thoughts. 

It is fitting that we are able to end restrictions this weekend, as to be able to do so is due to the hard work and efforts of so many Bermudians who helped push us forward in our battle against the coronavirus. Thanks to these modern day heroes, some who wear uniforms and work on the frontlines, and others who work behind the scenes in their offices until late at night, and so many others we have taken back our island. Whether public officers, or private citizens serving their community we thank you for helping us to continue to move beyond the pandemic.

I wish everyone a happy National Heroes Day in advance.