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Survey lays bare Covid’s toll on community

The launch of Covid-19 testing after the pandemic hit Bermuda in 2020 (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bermuda’s economy is “much worse” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with nearly half of residents expecting a continuing decline into next year, according to a new survey.

The grim assessment was held by 74 per cent of residents, with 47 per cent saying they expected a downturn to continue.

The findings were included in a Bermuda Foundation report completed in October and issued today and laid bare the toll of Covid on the community from social isolation to soaring liquor sales.

Amanda Outerbridge, the chairwoman of the foundation’s board of directors, said it was “a robust documentation of how Bermuda’s community was affected by the pandemic”.

She thanked the public for sharing their views. “Their participation has provided the information that will enable us as a community to address issues in the key areas,” she added.

Myra Virgil, managing director of the charity, said the findings were “by no means shocking” and confirmed “much of what we know and have learnt in these last few years about ourselves as a community”.

“What this data does is properly inform programmatic decisions by practitioners, policymakers and philanthropists.”

Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11, 2020, with Bermuda’s first two cases reported on March 18. The first lockdown was imposed at the start of April.

At the onset of the pandemic, 69 per cent of residents told surveyors they viewed the coronavirus outbreak as a threat – and were “particularly concerned” about their employment.

But by the second wave of Covid-19 in autumn of 2020, six in ten residents said they had “confidence” in the handling of the pandemic with “effective public health guidelines” in place.

Of the 40 per cent who said they felt unprepared, financial insecurity was given as their top concern.

The report added: “That said, two years into the pandemic, residents have settled into a new normal and their opinions of quality of life in Bermuda have remained largely positive” – with 70 per cent giving it a good rating.

However, that figure was below the 81 per cent positive rating given in a similar survey by the foundation in 2016.

Covid-19’s top impact on life in Bermuda was given as “social life/isolation” but that had changed by 2022, when 28 per cent of residents were reporting social isolation as the most impacted area of their personal life with factors ranging from seeing friends and colleagues to attending church.

The survey said that social isolation might be better understood as “more nuanced in terms of the types of connections that need to be sustained”.

Women and Black Bermudians reported a higher impact from isolation than men and White Bermudians.

The figure stood at 28 and 29 per cent respectively for women and Black residents, while it was 17 per cent for both men and White residents.

The report, carried out in tandem with the firm Narrative Research Bermuda, also took note of indicators such as a 39 per cent rise in liquor sales during April 2020.

And it said that one in three residents, or 35 per cent, also reported their mental health had taken a hit from the pandemic.

Surveyors said tracking extra mental health indicators, such as suicides, suicide attempts and domestic violence, would enhance reporting going forward.

The report found a “sustained impact” from the pandemic on economy and work, as well as housing.

A breakdown of those thinking the economy will worsen showed that those holding Bermuda status, at 51 per cent, along with women at 53 per cent, were more likely to believe that it will get worse – more so than non-Bermudian residents, at 36 per cent, and men, at 42 per cent.

Assessments on the cost of living and housing were “concerning”, the report said.

Most residents, at 72 per cent, believed that the cost of living was higher than before the pandemic. The same number said they believed it would get worse in the next year.

Many said they felt that employment and the availability of housing would remain the same or worsen within the next year.

More than two-thirds, or 67 per cent, felt that the employment situation generally was worse than it was before the pandemic.

On housing, 51 per cent said it was worse because of the pandemic – and 53 per cent said it would worsen over the next year.

The report said personal finances and the cost of living were the single greatest driver of stress for 33 per cent of residents.

Most felt that improving the economy, jobs market and working population was most needed, at 19 per cent.

Reducing the cost of living came next at 17 per cent.

Higher-income households were less likely to report these factors as important to improving the quality of life, at 6 per cent, than lower-income households at 38 per cent.

Residents highlighted health and personal wellbeing, education, safety and security, community wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion, as taking a blow from the pandemic.

But, compared with opinions on the deterioration of the economy, work and housing, residents generally agreed that these areas would improve or stay the same over the next year.

Quarterly telephone surveys began in April 2020, bolstered by online questions.

Surveys ran up to February 2022.

To read the report and its accompanying statement, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”.

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Published December 13, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated December 13, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Survey lays bare Covid’s toll on community

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