“Now is not the time for us to act with wanton disregard and be resigned to a lockdown to solve a problem caused by that wanton disregard.”
This from Premier David Burt, who told MPs that “as a country, we’ve been doing this for 17 months”.
“And now it’s time for each of us to adjust our behaviour, follow the rules, and take personal responsibility to do our part to reverse the current trend and end this outbreak.”
In a Ministerial Statement delivered in the House on Friday (Sept 10), the Premier noted that “since the Cup Match holiday, we have seen an increasingly casual and almost cavalier approach to those very same practices that have kept us safe since the declaration of the global pandemic in March 2020″.
“Just a little over three weeks ago, as case numbers began to rise, the Government announced new requirements for the use of SafeKey for indoor activities where masks were being removed,” he said.
“Since that time, in a matter of weeks, active cases have quadrupled to over 500, and there are now more than 20 residents in hospital with five persons in the ICU.”
As noted by the Minister of Health earlier this week, he added: “This outbreak had been fuelled by people ignoring the basics and going to work when unwell.
“The same must be said of travellers and a business who failed to follow the traveller continuum on their return to Bermuda and caused a cluster in a school/camp setting.
“There are many other examples of persons not following the rules that have been made to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. The culmination of this is that we now have a wave most harshly affecting the unvaccinated – those who cannot be vaccinated due to age or medical condition and those who, to date, have chosen not to be vaccinated.”
As a result, he said: “We now have community transmission. There are a significant number of cases under investigation, and the increased community testing continues to identify positive cases.
But he said this is not 2020 and 66 percent of the island’s population “is fully vaccinated, and the data around this outbreak confirms that its scale and scope is being driven primarily by transmission from unvaccinated persons to other unvaccinated persons”.
“With our vaccination strategy validated by the protection against serious disease provided to vaccinated persons, we are not where we were in 2020 and not where we might have been with lower vaccination rates,” said Mr Burt.
“Therefore, 2020’s blanket measures that affect all persons and all businesses despite their compliance with the rules will not be immediately applied to this period in 2021.
“As long as we are able to properly manage the care of those who need medical attention generally and those persons with COVID-19, we have no need to revert to lockdowns and curfews; but these measures remain a possibility if we cannot take care of the sick in the community.
“We must continue to adjust our lives, to live with the coronavirus, and not so interrupt our lives that we again cannot worship communally, dine out as a family or go to work to earn a living. The people of Bermuda, who by and large are following the rules, should not be subject to further interruption of their lives and livelihoods caused by persons who do not follow the precautions in place that will keep us all safe.”
He also noted that since March of 2020, the Government has provided thousands of tests free of charge.
“Not one person in this country has paid for a vaccination,” said Mr Burt.
“The Government has not mandated testing save for participation in sport or in compliance with exemptions granted for large groups.
“The Government has not mandated vaccination for any resident, in spite of other similar jurisdictions doing so for work permit holders, frontline workers and public sector officers. This has been a study in the emphasis of personal choice, enhanced by public information and constant encouragement to consult one’s own doctor.
“The various orders and regulations implemented since March 2020 have been measured and indicative of an overarching aim of keeping this community, and in particular itsmost vulnerable citizens, safe. None of this changed. None of this will change,” he added.
Moving to the next phase, he said: “This next phase must have at its core a theme of personal responsibility.
“We must now take charge of our own interactions and act sensibly and safely. This means that if an event is for 20 people, then 20 it must be. This means that if we are in a setting where mask-wearing is mandated or strongly recommended, then you should wear a mask. This means that we cannot act like COVID-19 is a thing of the past and party like it’s 2019.
“I expect to see broader enforcement of the existing Regulations this weekend and beyond,” he added.
“Large groups granted an exemption should expect to be visited and be subjected to confirmation of the correct use of SafeKey and any other conditions under which the exemption has been granted. Licensed premises and indoor bars and restaurants can expect the same.
“The enforcement will be broad, and my expectation is also that it will be fair. This is the only way that we will ease the growing pressure on the various elements of our healthcare system, which are stretched and stressed.”
On that note he reiterated that offending establishments will be ordered to close and “a recommendation is likely to be made to extend that power to a senior Police Officer in keeping with previous practices under the former Regulations”.
“This power would be used sparingly, but the immediacy it affords will provide maximum protection in the event of an apparent serious breach,” said the Premier.
“It should be clear that the Government desires a zero-tolerance approach from enforcement agencies.
“If a place that is required to have SafeKey has patrons present with no valid SafeKey – it should be closed for a period according to law.
“If a place is not collecting contact tracing details as required, it too should be closed according to law.
“If an establishment that requires staff to be masked, and they are not masked, it too should be closed in accordance with the law.
“The Government has implemented a fixed penalty regime, and this too must be employed in the enforcement regime.”