The sound of silence
In politics, what goes unsaid often reveals the true narrative. It has been observed before: silence speaks volumes. When Parliament returned from the short August break, the House of Assembly was demonstrably silent.
The Progressive Labour Party has 30 elected MPs. Yet last Friday few had much to say about the problems facing our island — or much to say about anything. Their collective silence revealed developing fault lines in the PLP. Only one backbencher spoke in the Motion to Adjourn. His efforts to distract from the internal PLP power struggle were deflated. The thrust of his speech: the PLP’s argument with the Bermuda Industrial Union is a family affair — the rest of Bermuda can stay out of it. Otherwise, mostly silence. MPs waiting to see how this scrap will play out, perhaps reluctant to back the wrong horse.
All this was only one week ago. And yet that sitting of the House now seems so far away …
The fourth wave
As I write this, we have 1,427 Covid cases and rising. Quarantine has become the new lockdown. Some 10,000 of us are in isolation. Health minister Kim Wilson warns the situation at our hospital is becoming “unmanageable”. People are rightly asking how we got here. Yet the more important question, at least to me, is what we do next. And not just the next few days and weeks, but the coming months and — very possibly — the coming years.
Let’s face facts: unless something dramatic happens, Covid is here to stay for some time. And our vaccination efforts have stalled. We are still below 70 per cent; well short of “herd immunity”, which should be 80 per cent or above. Sure, vaccination rates may creep upwards over time, but most residents have decided whether or not to get the jab.
Given this may remain our reality, where do we go from here?
There is the immediate issue of those in hospital of course. Let us hope and pray our already stretched medical professionals can to cope. Yet how do we bring Covid numbers down and keep them down?
There is obviously social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing — the commonsense trio which go hand in hand with taking personal responsibility. Yet if vaccination numbers remain stalled, what else can and should be done?
In the medium to longer term, decision-making as an island must focus on the whole picture. Alongside health considerations, this includes addressing our struggling economy, the faltering education of our children, and legitimate concerns about the mental health of our community.
Shadow health minister Michael Dunkley has this week set out some One Bermuda Alliance solutions. These suggestions are not earth-shattering. Just commonsense ideas to get a grip on a pandemic that for too long has gripped our lives.
Shadow education minister Ben Smith has also set out some One Bermuda Alliance solutions for getting our children back to school. And, so far as possible, keeping them at school. It is devastating that this is now our third year of learning interrupted. This will have long terms consequences.
These suggestions are worthy of your consideration. The situation has evolved and our solutions must also evolve. This week it was announced that foreign nationals will need to be vaccinated to enter the United States. This decision may well increase Bermuda’s vaccination numbers.
Putting the vaccination issue to one side, the pragmatic focus needs to be on situational testing. In particular, there are roles in our community that, by necessity, will require routine — and less invasive — testing to ensure our island functions. Routine testing regardless of your vaccine status — in our hospital, our schools and nursing homes. If some do not wish to undergo “situational testing”, we as a community will need to consider whether and how those persons can continue in those specific roles.
Back to Parliament
Today, we are back to the House of Assembly, albeit still virtually.
Bills for debate include health insurance changes, immigration changes to permanent resident’s certificates, financial assistance and the introduction of criminal penalties for the possession of invasive alien species (the plants and animal variety — not ET).
Of course, the problems with Covid loom largest. Yet these Bills all involve important issues for Bermuda, too. And they are issues that deserve more than silence from a fractured, inward-facing PLP.
• Scott Pearman is the Shadow Minister for Legal Affairs and Transport, and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org