The following Op-Ed was submitted by One Bermuda Alliance Senate Leader Ben Smith on Tuesday, April 20, 2021…
A few weeks back I asked if we could get a road map for Bermuda to climb out of this COVID mess. When you are trying to reach a destination and you need others to follow you it is important that you have a roadmap and provide it to others so that they can follow. It just needs to be a clear and concise plan that has levels for ramping up when there are spikes and receding to lesser restrictions when numbers are controlled.
This would describe financial benefits, school impact, and all other restrictions that are required at each level. This brings a level of comfort that there is a plan, and people know how to get back on the road when there are obstacles. The lack of road map and plan does the opposite to a community. There is anxiety that is created and eventually some persons start to try to create their own road map because they lose faith in the direction they are being taken.
During the first phase Bermuda went in to shelter in place to protect the population from the health crisis and to try to keep the economy intact. There seemed to be a clear plan in front of us that had also been set out by leadership in other major countries. We flattened the curve and by September we had moved towards a more normal existence. We were not fully back but people started to return to work, retail and hospitality started to limp along, and everyone was waiting for a vaccine to get back to open.
There was a hole in our plan because we had to keep our airport open. This meant that a small group of travelers would continue to bring the virus to our shores on a weekly basis. This problem became bigger because we would allow these travelers to join the community quickly after their airport arrival test was negative. What about the people that then tested positive on day 4, day 8 and day 14? How many people did they expose to the virus?
The mantra was that there should only be essential travel so that we could keep the spread to a minimum. Most of the people in Bermuda have not traveled since last March. Some have had to travel for medical reasons, education, or other critical reason. How many people traveled as if life was back to normal and opened themselves and then our community to virus exposure. This group was never punished or restricted or made to stay at home for 14 days to protect the rest of the community that was following the rules.
When international news began to discuss the UK variant that spread significantly faster and was causing stress in health care, Bermuda didn’t change the plan or provide a roadmap. We simply allowed people to enter our community, letting the variant in, and test positive on day 4, 8 and 14. We also had a small portion of our community start to ignore all the rules and restrictions, opening the gates to community spread.
What happens next is Bermuda driving forward without a road map. The community spread gets out of hand, cases skyrocket, hospitalizations increase and now the deaths have unfortunately started to climb. We must learn from the past year, adapt, and plan. The impact of the decisions being made now cross all areas of Bermuda. I think it is important to point out just some of that impact.
Schools had to close early and then return with virtual learning and now canceled assessments. When we were open, did we make sure that every student had what they needed in the event of another shut down? Even if you believe that we would not need to shut down again you needed to plan for the possibility and then communicate more than 48 hours ahead of the actual shutdown.
The hospitality business and all of the workers that are employed in this industry have been hit extremely hard by this pandemic. Each restriction has a different impact on the business and in turn its employees. When you shut down within 48 hours what happens to all of the foodstuffs and produce that the restaurants had already purchased? The first shut down last year resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in spoiled product. A year later with the sudden shut down there will be more spoilage. Why didn’t we learn from last year and give the industry proper time to prepare? As we ease out of the stay-at-home order restaurants can offer curbside pickup and delivery.
Many will think that this is good for the restaurant, but this half measure can be the end for a restaurant. If they open, they start to accumulate cost while the customers are working from home so the risk of little to no business is real. The big companies may have the ability to survive this restricted opening, but many others will not open rather than risk whatever business is left going under. Do we have any real data on the level of spread that was happening at our restaurants? Many of them went through great expense to operate outdoors only to see that option closed also.
Retail is another industry that was suffering pre COVID, but many saw a bump in business since less people traveled. They’ve been closed again and now can only open up with restricted numbers, however they still are paying import duty and still covering payroll and other expenses, but revenue is restricted. How long can they survive in another shut down?
We cannot continue to flounder with this reactionary system. We need a road map that gives a plan with multiple stages. Presently the restrictions and regulations that are set out are can be confusing and, in many instances, contradicting. Even the Ministers are having difficulty keeping things straight.
Information on testing and vaccinations will be a critical part of the road map. The mantra now seems to be “get vaccinated and reach herd immunity” and we can reopen. The population doesn’t need to continue to hear politicians speaking about their health.
There should be press conferences that only have doctors and scientists from Bermuda giving information, answering questions, and providing sources for where people can get believable information instead of Facebook, Instagram, TIK TOK or Doctor google. If herd immunity is the answer to reopening, then that education should be the priority. This education campaign needs to be provided on every possible platform so that everyone has access.
There are some questions that need to be answered to give the population comfort and minimize the anxiety and frustration.
If you consider that people under 16 are not vaccinated, that means they are in the 30 percent that need to be protected by the herd. We have a portion of our community that is hesitant to getting the vaccine and others that refuse to get vaccinated. Does this mean that from the potential group that can be vaccinated we will need more than 70 percent?
When a 10-person business is asked to quarantine for 14 days and all of the 10 have been fully vaccinated it creates questions and frustration. There needs to be a clear and concise answer so that the misinformation does not continue to rule the country.
We need to have balance to health regulations, health of economy and restrictions of the rights of so many that have followed the rules. Use the modeling to create a road map for the next three months, six months and year. That way the population knows the direction being taken to get them to the desired destination. Without the plan we will continue to be reactionary, and the results will continue to be unacceptable.