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Businesses react to Premier’s comments

Stop picking on us: Natalie Flood, owner of fitness studio Shamana Circle wrote to the Premier (File photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

A gym owner has asked the Premier to stop targeting small businesses when referring to the spread of Covid-19.

Natalie Flood, of fitness studio Shamana Circle, wrote an open letter to David Burt, protesting that restaurants, bars, gyms and personal services businesses were not the places where transmission was taking place.

Two restaurant group leaders said their establishments were following the rules and that all individuals need to do the same to combat the spread of the virus.

Ms Flood’s letter came after Mr Burt urged police to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach in dealing with any breaches of Covid-19 rules in bars during a press conference on Tuesday.

In her letter, published in The Royal Gazette today, Ms Flood tells Mr Burt that she finds it “highly offensive that you and your government are targeting bars, restaurants, gyms and personal care businesses in your press conferences”.

She adds: “Correct me if I am wrong, but all new cases have been due to travel, and people not following regulations after they have travelled (ie seeing members of the community before their day 14 test) and because of workplace settings like the Bermuda Hospital.”

In his Tuesday press conference, Mr Burt implied that some bars were breaking the rules and he had asked police to clamp down on it.

The Premier said: “Just as a note to bartenders: because you may get a saliva screening, and because you test negative, this does not mean that you can go to the bar to work and work without a mask.

“We have asked the police to adopt a zero tolerance approach. To be clear last week a zero tolerance approach was not adopted. It is far too important for persons to let their guard down right now.

“I am confident that we can get through this very difficult period if we all remember the precautions that have been put in place. But, the zero tolerance approach, especially in licensed establishments, has been asked for by the Government and it is hopeful that it will be implemented.”

Chris Garland, general manager of Harbourside Holdings, which owns Flanagan’s Bar and Restaurant in Hamilton and three other eateries, said the regulations were nothing new.

“I think the Premier is taking a very sensible approach,” Mr Garland said. “You just have to look at the news and see that the world is going through a second wave.

“We felt that we were serious about this – and we have been – but perhaps this is a signal for us to step up to the next level to be safe as a country and as individuals.”

However, he said the timing of required Covid-19 tests for his company’s employees, some 70 staff at four restaurants, between 6pm and 8pm, a busy time, was operationally challenging. Shifting the test times to before 12pm would help, he said.

On Mr Burt’s comments about bars, Mr Garland added: “There’s a very distinct difference between restaurants and bars and we should not all be lumped in together.

“In restaurants, the rules are simple. When you are seated you can take your mask off, and when you get up, you have to put it back on. In a bar there are grey areas in the rules.”

In some establishments where social drinking was the focus, it was clear that Covid-19 restrictions were sometimes not being followed by customers, particularly late in the evenings, he added.

“The Premier and the Government are making the right choices,” Mr Garland added. “If we don’t comply then they will have to apply stricter measures.

“In the restaurants, we believe we are doing everything we can.”

Philip Barnett, president of Island Restaurant Group, said if there were establishments where bartenders were not wearing masks, then licence-holders should face the consequences.

However, he cautioned against the public leaping to conclusions based on images broadcast through social media.

“Even when you try your hardest, human nature is always at play, and someone may take their mask off for a second and someone else snaps a picture,” Mr Barnett said.

People may assume from the picture that it is normal for people to disregard the rules in an establishment when that is not the case, he added.

He also cautioned against tarring the whole industry with the same brush when the vast majority were following the rules.

Mr Barnett added: “Our experience has been that the police and the health department have been very understanding and willing to work with us, while also understanding that the rules have to be adhered to.”

Restaurants had been used to following strict health protocols before the pandemic, he added, and Covid-19 restricted had simply added another layer to those requirements.

He added that he was not aware of anyone in the restaurant industry who had been infected with Covid-19 through local transmission.

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Published November 26, 2020 at 8:10 am (Updated November 25, 2020 at 10:11 pm)

Businesses react to Premier’s comments

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