The Hon. David Burt, Premier and the Hon. Kim Wilson, Minister of Health
Good Evening Bermuda,
I am here with you tonight as both the Premier and a fellow Bermudian who understands the frustration that we are all currently experiencing due to this latest outbreak. I see the stress and the angst that so many of you are going through. I am no different from you. Yesterday morning I was crushed by the sight of my daughter crying wondering why she had to quarantine and why she couldn’t hug her daddy like she does many times a day.
It is important that I express to you, that I and the Government that serves you are not disconnected from the difficulties that this pandemic has brought to our shores. All of us individually have had to endure personal difficulties during this time, and the impact of this pandemic is not lost on those in leadership.
We recognise this situation, and that is why we are working hard to make the right decisions and strike the right balance for the entire country. Those decisions are never easy, in leadership they never are, but I want all persons to know that your Cabinet, your members of the legislature, and Bermuda’s public service are dedicated to continuing to work for all segments of Bermuda - so that we emerge from this Pandemic in a stronger position. You may not agree with all of our decisions, but please note that we are making the decisions that we feel are in the best collective interest of this country we call home.
For tonight’s press conference I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will provide an update on the latest testing results, vaccination statistics, and other matters from her Ministry.
We are also joined by the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain who will provide an update regarding our public schools.
Following the presentations from the ministers, I will be discussing the recent rollback of regulations and what is needed from all of us to ensure this outbreak is not as bad as the last one.
We are happy to have the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye, to answer any medical or technical questions from the media…
First, we will hear from the Minister of Health…
Thank you, Minister.
Thank you and your team who are again at the forefront leading and guiding us in how we contain this outbreak. I know how exhausted you and the team are - and Bermuda is grateful the long hours, weekends, and holidays that you have given to this fight against the Pandemic. Bermuda is fortunate to have such dedicated officers working - despite the senseless actions of people who should know better.
The number of active cases is alarming and it is essential that we all take responsibility for our everyday actions to ensure that we can bring these numbers down rather than see them continue to increase. This is especially important in our public schools where the outbreak has affected many families, including my own.
We will now hear from the Minister of Education who will provide an update on our public schools…
Thank you, Minister.
Thank you and your team for your rigorous work, especially over the last few weeks to keep our schools open and students, teachers, and parents safe. The decision to ask students, teachers, and staff to quarantine is never taken lightly, and the decision to begin the Easter break early is not preferable, but I understand the circumstances. I am gratified that the new protocols implemented and the communication coming from the Ministry of Education have kept our parents, students, and teachers better informed. I thank the Chief Medical Officer for revising the protocols which have allowed schools to remain open.
The majority of our schools are not impacted but we are making sure to take precautionary measures with the new saliva screening method. This is to ensure that students, parents and teachers have peace of mind.
On Saturday, the Cabinet met to discuss how the Government should respond to this current outbreak. Due to the increasing numbers, and the reality that we are dealing with the highly contagious U.K variant, it was decided to roll back the regulations to how they were in December 2020.
Like so many of you, I am disappointed that we must take these steps after making so much great progress together. However, we must act immediately and purposefully to prevent this current outbreak from getting worse.
The restrictions that we put in place worked in December, they will work this time, and we have implemented them quicker than the last time. On December 11th, we had 149 active cases, of which 45 were under investigation, at the time of implementing the measures that were put in place in December. At the time of implementing these most recent measures we had 91 active cases, with 12 ‘Under Investigation’ which was on Sunday.
Quicker implementation of restrictions leads to shorter times that those restrictions must remain in place. The purpose of restrictions is to ensure that our healthcare system does not get overrun.
There are persons who say, if there is no one in hospital, why do we have these restrictions in place, if the objective is not to overwhelm the healthcare system. I have two answers to this. The first answer is that we do not wait for the ICU to fill up to start putting restrictions in place. At that point, you would be far too late. The second answer is that we must remember, the healthcare system is not just our hospital.
Our healthcare system is our public health infrastructure, the nurses, the doctors, the swabbers, persons administering vaccines
, contact tracers and all of those who support them. If they get overwhelmed, then our public health efforts and the work we are doing to vaccinate our population, falls down. I don’t want the focus to be purely on the number of people being hospitalised. Our healthcare system is not just persons being hospitalised, it is all of the teams involved in our healthcare apparatus. It is important that we protect them, especially as they have been battling this pandemic for a year.
As a reminder, the public health regulations recommended by the Ministry of Health, and agreed by the Cabinet, which came into effect at 6am Sunday, March 21st, are as follows:
· Curfew now begins at 11pm and will continue to end at 5am.
· Clubs and bars are prohibited from serving patrons indoors, and outdoor service is for table service only.
· Restaurants, bars, and clubs are permitted a maximum of 6 persons per table.
· All personal services including spas, beauty salons, and barbershops, staff, and customers are required to wear a mask at all times.
· Gyms must ensure that patrons remain at least 10 feet apart. If they are not a part of the same household.
· The maximum size for gatherings is reduced to 10 persons.
· Indoor church services and ceremonies are limited to 20% of the venue’s capacity.
· Outdoor funerals are permitted to be attended by up to 20 persons.
· Boat curfew remains at 8pm
· The Government also recommends that staff who can work from home should do so.
The Government is again committed to supporting workers and businesses affected by the revised and necessary regulations. The Ministry of Finance has renewed the unemployment benefit support for individual workers, and payments up to a maximum of $500 per week. The aim is to speed the payments so that persons eligible receive $1500 for the full 3 week closure as soon as possible. Applications can be filed starting tomorrow at uba.gov.bm.
Businesses that are affected will again be eligible for grants to cover expenses and overhead through the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) as they were in December. If you are a small business you can apply for the COVID
-19 Emergency Grant Funding online by going to bedc.bm.
These restrictions will remain in place for at least three weeks and will be reviewed by the Cabinet in hopes that we can begin to safely ease them again when our active case numbers have decreased. We never implement such measures lightly, and this time is no different. We understand that this has been a long and tiring battle for all of us, it has been difficult. It has been a strain on our personal and mental health.
However we are making progress, and are not where we were in December. Thirty-nine percent (39%) of our eligible population have received at least one shot of the vaccine
. We have maintained and expanded our testing capacity to respond to outbreaks.
Yes, this outbreak like the previous, was the result of the selfish actions of a few. However, I continue to applaud the overwhelming majority of Bermudians who are quite simply, doing the right thing. So many of you have continued to abide by the rules, follow the guidelines and do all you can to assist the country.
The current laws and enforcement in place to deal with offenses of COVID
-19 regulations are substantial. However, as with all offenses, the judicial process can take time. Any perceived delay in persons being brought before the court is not uncommon. However, Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weeks did acknowledge two weeks ago that there is a backlog of cases to be sent over to the DPP, and a backlog within the courts. That does not mean persons are not being held accountable.
Bermuda’s courts are still hearing cases for other serious offenses and COVID
-19 breaches are now a part of those to be heard. Persons who break the law will be brought before the courts, as some have already.
The Government has previously advised that Fixed Penalties were being considered. I can advise that today the Cabinet agreed to those Fixed Penalties, which will now be brought to the House of Assembly to be considered. However, the change doesn't mean that penalties do not exist - they currently do. The Public Health COVID
-19 Emergency Power Regulations state that for people who violate the regulations as a first offence are eligible for a fine of up to $6,000. For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.
It is not correct to say there are no penalties in place, they are in place. Fixed penalties will make it more quick and efficient like a speeding ticket, but that does not mean that people will not appear before the courts (as they have already) for breaking the rules.
Our vaccination programme is our most effective weapon in ultimately defeating this virus. I am delighted that we have moved to Phase 3, which enables all persons 16 and over to register their interest in getting vaccinated. I encourage all persons over the age of 16 to register.
As a country, we set an aggressive target of administering 38,000 doses by the end of this month. At our current rate, we will meet that target that was set and I want to commend the entire vaccination team for their efforts.
As mentioned by the Minister of Health we have administered 34,204 doses of the vaccine
thus far. Bermuda maintains its place among the top countries in the world for vaccinations administered relative to population size.
The Government also projects that at our current rate of vaccinations being administered, and with the commencement of Phase 3, we will see approximately 50% of the eligible population received both doses of the vaccine
by May 1st. In addition to that, we project that 70% of the eligible population in Bermuda will have received both doses by June 1st.
Having the majority of our population vaccinated gives the virus nowhere to go, and reduces transmission. It is at that point that we hope we can truly begin our return to normal and significantly reduce restrictions. However, we must give ourselves the time we need to reach our goals by containing the spread, and continuing to follow all guidelines and regulations.
Many of the people involved in the contact tracing and case management are the same individuals involved in the vaccination programme. Whenever there is an outbreak, the staff at the Ministry of Health, who are already stretched and stressed are further pressed into service to help manage those people who have been confirmed positive.
This is why it is extremely important that everyone who is contacted by Contact Tracers give their full support by providing information quickly and promptly. You will be helping to identify others who are potentially exposed and possibly saving the lives of those in our society who are most vulnerable.
We have not only made progress in vaccinations but in how we respond to an outbreak. Thanks to effective contact tracing and the WeHealth app we can quickly isolate positive cases and known contacts.
The public can continue to help with this by ensuring you have downloaded the WeHealth App on your phone. These actions will contribute to our effort to shorten this outbreak and the effort to avoid future outbreaks.
This combined with fully cooperating with Contact Tracers is essential to get through this outbreak. The WeHealth app DOES NOT hold your personal details. If you are provided with a code to enter into the app due to testing positive, you must enter the code. Any information given to Contact Tracers is confidential, so please be open and honest with them.
Let us honor our frontline health professionals who have worked tirelessly over the past year, by playing our part to contain the spread of this new variant of coronavirus
Please wear your masks, wash and sanitize your hands, maintain physical distance, and adhere to all regulations. We have shown time and time again that when we work together we can recover and move forward.
As I close, we know that many in our community may need extra emotional support. If you need someone to talk with, call the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543-1111. The line is operated Monday to Saturday, from 5pm - 9pm.
This help is available if you need someone to talk with, whether you are:
· feeling anxious;
· feeling isolated;
· caring for others; or
· if you are not feeling yourself.
Again, the phone number is 543-1111. Please call as help is available.