Where’s the science behind this draconian travel policy?
This is meant to be an open letter to decision makers responsible for the island’s Covid policies, which to this point have been largely rational, and effective in keeping the people of Bermuda safe.
I purposely use the caveat “to this point” because, like many others, I have particular issue with the 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine for unvaccinated travellers that was supposed to go into effect yesterday. That mandate may apparently last “until the end of the pandemic”, whenever that might be. Some would argue that time has already arrived in this part of the world.
I understand there is active litigation against the Bermuda Government for the implementation of this travel policy. Let me clarify that I have no involvement with that litigation. In fact, at the same time as I criticise for this particular policy, I would like to first thank the Government, members of the Covid task force, and all volunteers and members of the medical community for keeping the island safe to the best of their ability. It is truly appreciated.
While no government has had all the right answers, I commend this one for seemingly putting politics aside when developing policies, which is sadly more than I can say for the government in the place of my birth. The vast majority of Covid policies in Bermuda to date have been well thought out and based on data and scientific theories. I believe all of them have at least been well-intentioned.
This most recent travel policy, however, seems to deviate from some of those principles. This policy also has the potential to massively disrupt my life, like many other travellers. In my particular situation I have a wife that is very pregnant with our first child in the US. This, not surprisingly, takes me back and forth on a regular basis, since the majority of my job responsibilities are here in Bermuda.
I am hardly alone in this department. There are numerous other frequent air travellers to the US, Canada and Britain, some of whom commute weekly in normal times. Bermuda’s proximity to these locations and ease of access is one of the original reasons it became a preferred place for international business. And, of course, it’s not just business travellers that will get caught up in this; it’s anyone unvaccinated who wants to leave the island, whatever the reason may be.
I have done my part complying with all applicable Covid rules and regulations wherever I have found myself during the past 15 months, as most of us have. I’ve seen very little of my friends both here and in the US. I wear an N95 mask when I travel. I have been Covid-tested 58 times as of the writing of this letter; thankfully all negative.
Among those many PCR tests have been several antigen tests, also negative, which makes me quite confident that I have never had Covid, and therefore have not transmitted it to anyone else, either. Contrary to popular belief, being a frequent air traveller does not make you more likely to be infected or to infect others, as multiple scientific studies have now shown. I would contend that irresponsible actions taken by certain individuals and a disregard for rules meant to safeguard have a far greater detrimental impact, as per my understanding was a major contributor to the spike in cases here during the month of April.
The most recent statistics as of June 8 revealed that there are less than ten active cases in Bermuda and no hospital admissions. Every life lost and person or family affected is of course a sobering reminder of how short and precious life is; but I would hardly declare that to be a pandemic. So why, at a time when local impact is minimal and places such as the US, Britain and, most of all, China are reopening is Bermuda implementing its most draconian travel policy yet? Where is the science behind it?
Let’s look at the specifics of this policy. It requires unvaccinated travellers to quarantine in a room at a preapproved hotel for two weeks. For the privilege of this confinement, they will need to pay upwards of $4,000 per visit. Even if you believe 14 days in isolation is somehow necessary, which is a huge deviation from recent policies and most scientific guidance, how is it any better to have these people locked in a hotel room?
If these people are truly a threat, they are potentially putting hotel workers in harm’s way. Instead, if these travellers have the ability to quarantine at home in isolation, why not let them do that?
When I return from overseas, I head directly to my car in long-term parking, drive home and remain there for the duration of whatever quarantine period may be in effect depending on how the wind blows. I have grocery delivery dropped outside my door and do not have contact with anyone until my next required Covid test. I do not pass “Go” or collect $200.
Make no mistake, this policy is effectively an attempt at a forced inoculation, using vaccines that began testing in trials less than a year ago, and have still not been approved for anything other than emergency use. For what reason?
People have many different valid reasons for choosing to forgo the vaccines. For me personally, I’ve read numerous articles and scientific studies, listened to a wide variety of viewpoints from the experts, many of whom have been wrong more than they have been right, and had conversations with my family and my physician.
To put it succinctly, I weighed the risks and rewards, and decided that at this time it is in the best interests of me and my family not to get vaccinated. Based on my age alone, I’m about as likely to die of complications from pneumonia as I am of Covid — the statistics are right there on the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
So I don’t feel the need to participate in what is essentially the largest clinical trial in human history. I’m confident in my own immune system to help keep me safe, as it has done my whole life. I am also confident that I’m not putting others at risk, since at this point every adult that has a desire to be vaccinated has had an opportunity to do so.
I am by no means an anti-vaxxer convinced that Bermuda is part of a global conspiracy being orchestrated by Bill Gates. In fact, I fully support all those who have chosen to get vaccinated themselves. These personal medical decisions made in their own best interests are just that: personal. I also recognise that I do not have the ability to give a professional opinion on the pros and cons of vaccination since I am not an epidemiologist, and unfortunately missed the day when they were passing out medical degrees on social media.
But I assess risk for a living, and have been doing so for almost 20 years. I’m pretty good at what I do; it’s why I’m here. So I would like to think I’m qualified to make my own personal medical choices, just as you all are. An extremely complex decision on a personal health matter should not be met with a one-size-fits-all approach, and it shouldn’t be unnecessarily punished, either.
So where does that leave us?
With a travel policy that may be well-intentioned but lacking in scientific justification.
With a policy that unfairly and unnecessarily hits the wallets of those who dare to continue to travel unvaccinated.
With a policy that is unlikely to get us any closer to that elusive herd immunity, which the scientific community has acknowledged is more complicated than simply reaching a 70 per cent vaccination rate.
With a policy that is very oddly timed for a variety of reasons, and could be likened to trying to hammer a screw into a concrete surface.
I and numerous others that find themselves in a similarly uncomfortable position urge for this policy to be reconsidered.
JOHN “JJ” SAUR