December: Airport terminal? Schools? An open-and-shut case
Renewed outbreaks of the coronavirus cast a pall over the final month of 2020, when the island lost its tenth person to the pandemic – the first death since May.
December brought a quiet festive season after a jump in coronavirus numbers sparked a return to a curfew and other restrictions.
The month also marked a double figure death toll from the infection, with ten fatalities recorded.
David Burt, the Premier, conceded the spike in cases, which followed global trends, had been “frightening”.
But Mr Burt highlighted the island’s high levels of testing and the co-ordinated response to the pandemic through “a difficult and challenging year”.
But the restrictions meant a difficult Christmas in a year when even Cup Match had to be scrapped.
Mr Burt and Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, announced fresh unemployment benefits to help hospitality workers, as well as those left jobless in the wake of quarantines and closures caused by the outbreak.
The problems of retailers were increased on the Friday before Christmas when an equipment failure at Belco plunged Bermuda into its first island-wide blackout for years.
But if the aggressive comeback of Covid-19 felt like a setback, Bermudians in December were looking forward to the future.
The first vaccines against the coronavirus were scheduled to arrive early in January, which promised hope for seniors and others vulnerable to the disease – as well as the island’s legion of exhausted healthcare workers.
History was made when the ribbon was cut to open the new terminal at the airport.
December brought other landmarks – a Bill to legalise cannabis was tabled in the House of Assembly and changes to the island’s labour and trades union legislation were passed by MPs.
But the trades union reforms got a frosty reception from unions because of a clause designed to give non-unionised workers in a business a vote on decertification, the procedure where workers get to decide on whether to terminate their union representation.
Education dominated the month’s headlines, although pupils got an early Christmas break as the outbreak and the volume of quarantines stretched teachers to the limit.
The restrictions will carry over into 2021 and pupils will work on a remote basis after the Christmas break.
Diallo Rabain, the education minister, unveiled proposals for a major shake-up of the island’s public schools, including the possibility of cutting the number of primary schools from 18 to ten.
The Progressive Labour Party forged ahead with the phasing-out of middle schools, opening the move to “signature schools” to the public for feedback.
The first two signature schools were slated to to open in September 2022.
Another milestone for Bermuda came with the departure of the Governor, John Rankin, after four years in the job.
The new Governor, Rena Lalgie, was sworn in on December 14 and welcomed as the first woman and first Black person to hold the post.
Two Royal Bermuda Regiment soldiers were honoured with Commander-in-Chief Commendations by John Rankin, in almost his last official act before he left the island.
Sergeant Damir Armstrong was singled out for his coolness and courage after two soldiers were injured, one seriously, as they manned a Covid-19 checkpoint in June.
Corporal Nathan Frick, of the RBR Coastguard, was honoured for a September rescue dive in Hamilton Harbour, where he risked his own life to pull Kristian Baboolal, 31, a Canadian hotel worker to the surface from more than 40ft down.
Mr Baboolal, found to have been submerged for almost 20 minutes, was later pronounced dead by doctors.