Opposition Leader Cole Simons opted to “address the elephant in the room – the COVID-19 Pandemic” before he delved into his party’s Reply to the Throne Speech on Friday (Nov 12).
At the top of his 25-page response, Mr Simons asked: “We are here in November 2021, and who would have thought that we would still be facing this pandemic?
“A pandemic which in 19 months, has turned this country upside down, inside out and sadly has resulted in over 100 COVID related deaths. It has changed how each one of us go about our daily lives, and how we manage our community and cultural activities.
“Just look at the fluid manner in which our schools must now operate. Look at how our work/life balance is distorted,” he added.
“The number of people working from home would have been unheard of pre – COVID. Look at tele-medicine or at the new Hitch culture. Indeed, there is a new spirit of entrepreneurialism in Bermuda. We have only to look at the exponential growth of online shopping both locally and abroad, and the increase in restaurant take-out orders.
“As a result of the pandemic, we now have reduced sizes in our family gatherings, be they christenings, graduations, marriages, or funerals. Christmas, Easter, Cup Match and Bermuda Day activities have also been scaled back to adhere to the safety protocols. In fact, look at this scaled back opening of Parliament,” said Mr Simons.
“Due to the government-imposed state of emergency, there has been an increased strain on our healthcare system, and the added pressures on our social support networks. Unfortunately, we have also had to implement and continue to provide millions of dollars in unemployment benefits, with additional strain on our Financial Assistance programme and our security forces.”
He also noted that to date, “there have been four COVID-19 spikes, with the latest one finally coming under control”.
“Thankfully, we are adjusting our lives accordingly, as we have had to do with other catastrophes,” he said.
While we have longed to return to normal, we in the Opposition believe that it is time to accept a new paradigm and that we, the people of Bermuda, must come together and rebuild a vibrant, prosperous, and safe community which we were in the habit of taking for granted pre-COVID–19, because let’s face it, there were many things that were broken before the onset of the pandemic.”
On that note, he said: “As a country, we need to be cognizant of and recognize that some of the decisions made by this government and others have failed to provide the needed solutions. If we are going to successfully come out of this crisis, we must learn from our failures.”
Referring to Ed Yong, a journalist for ‘The Atlantic’ a US magazine that recently said: “…normal has led to this”, the OBA leader said: “To avert the future pandemics, we know will be coming, we must grapple with all the ways that that normal, has failed us.
“We have to build something better.”
“The OBA agree that it is time for us to capitalize on the new opportunities that have presented themselves to rebuild a better Bermuda, both socially and economically.”
Responding to critics, he added: “Many may say that I am very optimistic and that I should take a reality check.
“My answer to those critics is this – I am confident, in fact I know that we can get through this because I know that Bermudians are a very resilient and resourceful people. We have worked our way through many challenges and pandemics in the past, and we will do so successfully now and, in the future, because that’s who we are.
“What makes this pandemic more challenging is understanding who the enemy is.
“As a small island nation, where generations of locals, long-term residents and foreign workers live, we must recognize that Public Enemy Number One is the COVID–19 Pandemic, not one another.
“We must use our collective wisdom and energy positively, and we must be laser-focused on the fight against the pandemic together. It will take discipline, respect, resourcefulness, creativity and a spirit of community on a level playing field, where there is social, economic, and cultural equity for all.
“In that vein, let me begin my response to the government’s Throne Speech by congratulating, thanking and showing our appreciation to our frontline workers, the executive team at Bermuda’s Department of Health, Bermuda’s Chief Medical Officer and team, our health care workers, our armed forces, our supermarket staff, and medical support staff, our hospital staff, the media, those who care for our seniors, and others whom I may have missed, who placed themselves at risk by providing outstanding service to our country by managing and mitigating the risks associated with COVID-19.
“May I also take this opportunity to commend and congratulate the people of Bermuda for their commitment, patience, diligence and discipline in the continued mitigation and management of Bermuda’s COVID-19 pandemic.”