These past few months have been among the toughest in our country’s history. Loved ones have been lost and it has taken a toll on so many of us – emotionally, mentally, physically.
In the darkest moments I think we all worried how bad things would get, and how much more people would have to suffer, before we got through the worst.
As a country we got through this without giving way to despair, by looking out for each other, and by staying hopeful. This spirit of hope proved to be contagious and it has brought us to where we are now, ahead of schedule, able to accelerate the reopening of our country and our economy.
After studying the expert advice of NPHET, Cabinet today approved the rephasing of the Roadmap. Apart from some exceptions, most things are now being moved to Phase 3, beginning on Monday 29 June.
I am making this announcement today to give people time to prepare, so that places can be ready to open, for example churches and places of worship, gyms, cinemas, leisure facilities and, yes, hairdressers and barber shops.
In phase 3, which we expect to commence on Monday the 29th June, all sporting activities, including close contact sports, can recommence including team leagues for adults and children. We will all need to be careful. It will not be as it was before the start of the pandemic and for now sports will take place with very limited numbers of spectators.
We are making progress but this announcement comes with some important terms and conditions. The virus hasn’t gone away. We are all still susceptible to it.
People should still work from home if they can.
Mass gatherings will be limited to 50 people indoors and 200 people outdoors until July 20th. All going well, this will rise to 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors thereafter.
As our country is reopened in a controlled, measured way personal responsibility will be more important than ever. We are asking everyone to consider four things before making a decision about doing something and at all times to evaluate the risk. These four things are: Distance, Activity, Time and Environment.
Distance: Always try to stay 2 metres apart from someone else if possible.
Activity: Wash your hands regularly, wear a face covering on public transport or in a crowded indoor space
Time: The amount of time you spend with a person or group increases your risk
Environment: Always bear in mind that a closed, poorly ventilated indoor space is much riskier than being outdoors.
Taking personal responsibility means not entering a place if you see it is packed. It means leaving somewhere, even if you are having a good time, if you have been there for too long. It means exercising judgement and self-control for your own sake, but also for the collective good.
This re-phasing forward of the Roadmap is made possible by the solidarity you have shown and the sacrifices, decisions and choices that you have made over the past few months suppressing the virus.
Instead of being forced back, we have been able to push the spread of the virus back and advance forward.
There is of course more work we need to do. We need to show the same determination and ambition in leading our economic recovery, creating new jobs, and getting people back to work and businesses open again.
Many people have asked to how quickly we can bounce back and how long it will take before the economy returns to where it was before, with a job for everyone who wants one, poverty in decline, and incomes on the rise. The truth is we cannot know for sure.
Some have asked whether there is a limit to what we can achieve. My answer is that the limit does not exist. We have been here before and we know the way out.
We know what needs to be done and the next Roadmap will be a Roadmap for Economic Recovery, the National Recovery Plan.
In years to come we will never forget how the world was upended in 2020. Never again will we take something as simple as a haircut for granted, or time spent with parents or grandparents, or meeting friends for a drink.
Thankfully we found ways to stay connected, even when we were forced apart.
The mission of the next Government will be to repair all that has been damaged by this crisis. If we carry forward in the same spirit of solidarity, determination and hope then we have nothing to fear. Nothing is beyond us.
Just as the Government will need, so too will we as citizens.
We will need to continue to act responsibility, understand that we have no treatment or vaccine for this virus and until such time as we do, we will be living a different type of life. But a life where we can again do so many things that are important to us and our families.
As a nation, we have been through a shared experience and as we move forward, we will never forget what we have lost, what we have learned and what we have gained.