Burt admits ‘difference of opinion’ with Weldon, defends vacation
The Premier yesterday apologised for delays in coronavirus testing that were branded “chaotic” by the Opposition.
David Burt admitted there had a been a “difference of opinion” with Carika Weldon, the scientist in charge of the test system, as he defended the delayed reopening of most schools.
Mr Burt said testing would be increased in schools and he insisted he was right to go on a Christmas vacation to California during the latest coronavirus surge because he needed to “recharge”.
The Royal Gazette was scheduled to interview Mr Burt, but the Premier insisted only a journalist chosen by him could question him.
After being told The Royal Gazette would decide for itself who interviewed the Premier, the offer of an interview was withdrawn.
Carika Weldon, the director of the Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory, announced last week she would quit her post leading the island’s battle against Covid-19 at the end of the month.
She resigned after she told the Government several times that the system faced being overwhelmed by a flood of tests for schoolchildren and staff before the start of the new school term.
She also warned of a shortage of staff.
Mr Burt told Bernews: “I know that additional staff have started working in the laboratory already.
“It certainly is a challenge we have. These types of spikes and back-ups, that much is accepted and I want to certainly apologise to persons who were certainly inconvenienced. I recognise that there were persons who had travel plans changed.”
Mr Burt added: “It was the determination of the Government of Bermuda … that the best place for students to be is in school learning in classrooms.
“There was a difference of opinion. I understand, recognise and accept that, but the Government of Bermuda has to balance all of the challenges there.
“And we recognise that there was some inconvenience with delayed and staggered return to school, but I think that that would pale in comparison to some of the recommendations that were given …”
Mr Burt said: “I think that most parents would agree with the decision that the best place for our students to be is in-person learning.
“I have two young children as well and I recognise the emotional anguish that takes place when they are not in school.”
He added: “One thing that you will see from the Government of Bermuda is that you will see that there will be a more strict checking for symptoms upon the entry of classrooms, the entry to school, in students who cannot pass the entry questionnaire and are exhibiting outward signs and symptoms of possibly being sick.”
Mr Burt said pupils who appeared ill would be refused entry to schools and told to go home.
Mr Burt said that doctors and pharmacists would do more to help with testing.
He added: “The testing backlog can’t just be on the Government – if we are going to move ourselves to a place living with the coronavirus there needs to be multiple places for access to testing.”
Travel Authorisation forms for residents could be ended in 16 months’ time, the Premier has signalled.
David Burt said: “I do not believe the Travel Authorisation will go out of use until the earliest I would say April 1, 2023.
“So, that is the timeline for Travel Authorisation, but what I can state is that I know there are a number of concerns that people have with the Travel Authorisation.”
The Premier said the Government was looking at ways to simplify the TA process.
Kim Wilson, the health minister, said last July that the Government had taken in $5.42 million from the scheme in its first year after it was introduced in the wake of the pandemic.
Mr Burt said there would be an announcement next week on the extension of vaccinations to children aged under five, and on quarantine regulations.
He defended his decision to go on holiday despite the surge in Covid cases.
Mr Burt said: “All ministers that were on vacation are in constant contact with ministers that are working in their stead.
“Ministers, premiers, are humans too. Certainly we need time to recharge – if we don’t recharge, we will not do the best work for the people of this country.”
Some passengers said the scenes at the airport on New Year’s Day were “chaotic and confusing” as travellers waited for overdue test results they needed to board their planes.
The One Bermuda Alliance attacked the Government over its handling of the test problems.