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Premier refuses to write off tourist season

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Travel update: tourism minister Zane DeSilva (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A defiant David Burt reiterated his stance that tourism is not dead in Bermuda — but he acknowledged that some jobs in the sector could be lost permanently.The Premier was speaking last night as he moved to push back outspoken critics, some of them internal, that the 2020 season was a bust in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I, as Premier, am not willing to write off this year’s tourism season,” Mr Burt told the Covid-19 briefing at the Berkeley Institute cafetorium.He added that Bermuda should “carefully reopen its borders and welcome tourists to our shores this summer”.He said that with the island’s increased testing capacity and investment in medical technology, “we will have the means to safely reopen the airport and allow visitors to come to our shores secure in the knowledge that we can manage this virus and continue to protect our community”.Mr Burt added: “This is essential, as there are many in Bermuda who depend on tourism for their livelihoods.”But he warned “when we do reopen, Bermuda will be a changed place” and that “some jobs in tourism will be lost, perhaps for ever”.Mr Burt said: “As businesses close, others will open to meet the demand of the new and transformed economy.”The Premier told the press conference that “a number of work-permit holders will be returning home”.He called on Bermudians left unemployed by the months-long clampdown caused by the pandemic to step into new roles.Mr Burt was joined by Zane DeSilva, the tourism and transport minister, Kim Wilson, the health minister, and Wayne Caines, the national security minister.Mr DeSilva echoed the Premier, saying “we are now closer than ever” to reopening Bermuda to commercial air travel.He said the resumption of air service would be “gradual” ­— advising that a flight on Friday repatriating residents from Toronto was almost full.Ms Wilson revealed that a single new positive case of the Covid-19 disease had been found out of 355 test results received since Sunday, bringing total cases to 141.There were 20 active cases of Covid-19, 12 of which are under public health monitoring, with eight people in hospital.There are no Covid-19 patients in critical care, and 112 people have fully recovered from the disease.The cumulative total of tests for the virus, including retests, was said to be 2,923 for Helix Lab, and 4,581 at the Southside facility.Ms Wilson also announced the launch of a scorecard, based on “an easy-to-read traffic light system” using 11 categories to show “where we’re doing well and where we’re not” in gradually reopening the economy.The service is to be updated “once or twice a week, she added.Mr Caines praised the majority of people who went out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, but said police had intervened at “serious instances of antisocial behaviour at a couple of locations”.It was also announced last night that ferries were taking only 25 per cent of their normal capacity, while the public bus capacity had been upped from nine passengers to 17, with strict social-distancing.Mr Burt also responded to a call made yesterday in The Royal Gazette by Dennis Fagundo, the president of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, for the Government to change the cut-off from layoff to redundancy mandated in the Employment Act.At present, the threshold is four months, which Mr Fagundo said could cause cash-strapped businesses to go under from redundancy payouts.Mr Burt said the Act had been “a signature achievement” of the first Progressive Labour Party administration.He said the Cabinet, which meets today, would consider a variety of recommendations.Mr Burt added: “We’re not going to use this pandemic to relax protections on workers.”He said the protections of the Employment Act would not be watered down, and said the Government would be “thoughtful” on any changes it examined.Mr Burt said: “We are collectively building a new future, and each of us has a role to play in shaping that future together.”• To view the statements from the Premier and Minister of Health, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

Graphic by Christina White
Graphic by Christina White
David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)