Following that, I will provide you with an update on the extension of COVID-19 regulations, which have been agreed by the Cabinet today, and touch on matters related to tourism and our economy.
The Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain is here to answer any questions regarding our public schools.
It is also a pleasure to have The Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye, who can answer any medical questions from the media.
First, we will hear from the Minister of Health
It was Wednesday March 18th, 2020 - almost a year ago - that we first stood before you to announce the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bermuda. Since then, the Minister of Health, her team, and so many public officers (including the Communications team who organise these press conferences) have worked tirelessly to help us battle the coronavirus, protect our most vulnerable, and keep our economy going. I thank them all for their dedication, professionalism, and perseverance.
Thanks to this work, we have been able to enjoy a greater sense of normality than many countries around the world. It is also thanks to the collective work of all of us that Bermuda continues to be one of the top countries in the world for both testing and vaccinations.
We have now administered 30,481 doses of the COVID vaccine, including launching a walk-in service for those persons who are most vulnerable. Minister and CMO, thank you - to you - and to your teams for their hard work in accelerating the pace of vaccinations and putting Bermuda in a strong position. You should be proud of what has been accomplished.
The truth is Bermuda that vaccinations are the only way out of this pandemic, and there is no way in beating that reality. The world is in a race to stay ahead of the coronavirus mutations and have persons vaccinated to protect them not only from sickness and death but also to protect them against quarantine if they are exposed. Bermuda, we are in a fortunate place because of an arrangement between the United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories to supply vaccines.
Tomorrow, in my weekly meeting with the Governor, I will look to get further clarity on the future supply of vaccines so that we can look to further expand vaccine eligibility in Bermuda. I urge all persons currently eligible to please register online to receive your vaccine and do your part to ensure that Bermuda defeats this deadly virus.
As I said on my social media platforms this weekend, coronavirus fatigue is real, we have seen it unfold in other countries, and have seen how single events where regulations are not adhered to can lead to an outbreak here on our island.
Bermuda, we cannot let our guard down. The overwhelming majority of the active Coronavirus cases in our country are the ’UK Variant.’ This strain is known to be more transmissible and more deadly. We are making great progress with our vaccination programme, but this progress will slow if we do not contain this outbreak - as we will have to put more resources to do contact tracing and less to do vaccination. To do your part to assist in this effort, ensure when you go out, you are using the WeHealth app.
We have an efficient vaccination programme underway, have an extremely accessible and aggressive testing regime, and the scientific capabilities to determine which variants are present on our island. These are vital tools that we will continue to utilise to keep our island safe and our economy running. If you are eligible, get vaccinated. If you are not, get tested and know your status.
Along with the technology and vaccines that we have, we all can continue to take personal responsibility in our everyday lives to control the spread. I echo the Minister of Health’s consistent reminders to use hand sanitiser, wear a mask that fully covers your nose and mouth when in public, and keep your distance from others.
The next six weeks are critical and will require us all to do our part to break the chains of transmission while we continue to vaccinate our seniors and our most vulnerable.
Today, in line with recommendations from the Ministry of Health, with the support of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee, and due to the current outbreak, the Cabinet has agreed to the following:
· All current restrictions will remain in place as they are for a further two weeks
· This includes curfew, which due to the continued presence of the highly transmissible UK variant will continue to be implemented from 12am-5am
· Due to the continuance of the curfew, all businesses are required to continue to close at 11pm
· Boat curfew remains at 8pm
· The maximum number of persons for group gatherings in a public or private setting remains at 25
· Outdoor funerals can be attended by up to 50 persons
· Indoors funerals can hold up to 25% of the maximum capacity for the venue in which they are held
· Table size in restaurants, bars and nightclubs remains at ten persons
All measures will be reviewed by the Cabinet again in two weeks time. There was a discussion within the Government as to whether we should tighten restrictions due to the amount of cases but in the end, it was decided that the 98% who are following the rules shouldn’t suffer further for the 2% who are not.
We have seen persons arrested who will be brought before the courts for breaking these rules. Whether these rules are broken in a private home or within a business, there will be consequences. The Government takes no joy in persons being charged, but we will continue to take a forceful approach toward breaches of the regulations to protect public health and to protect our economy.
The Government is not saying stay in your homes. What we are asking is that when you do go out, ensure that you go to a place or gathering that abides by the regulations. Do not go to an event or a gathering where there are more than 25 people. Do not go to events and gathering where people are not wearing their mess, do not go to a gathering where people are not practicing social distancing and do not go to a gathering when people are huddled indoors.
We are dealing with an outbreak at present, but it is important that we all acknowledge we are in a much different place than we were in November. Thankfully, we have a significant amount of our elderly and vulnerable population vaccinated, and we continue to accelerate our vaccination programme.
Earlier this week COVID exposures were identified in Dellwood Middle and Northlands Primary Schools. Based on the level of exposure and the quick work of the Department of Health conducting risk assessments, the affected persons have been quarantined, and the schools have been cleared to remain open after deep cleaning of the affected areas was completed.
Late this afternoon, we were alerted to a potential COVID Exposure at Whitney Institute. As per protocols, a letter from the Dept of Health has been sent to staff and parents. A risk assessment is being carried out at the school. Further details will be sent once the risk assessment has been completed.
The COVID protocols in place that allowed our schools to open have been regularly reviewed and updated as necessary. It is a testament to these protocols, and the hard work of our school leaders and educators, and the progress we have made that we can safely keep our schools open.
Last night, the Bermuda Football Association announced that the local football season will not continue. It is the Government’s understanding that this decision was made democratically with the individual clubs voting and voicing their reasons as to why.
The Government gave permission for football to commence and was hopeful that through the staged Return to Play initiative managed by the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport in partnership with the Bermuda Football Association, Bermuda could enjoy a return to local sport as safely as possible.
I am very disappointed for those young people who have been training, undergoing the necessary testing and anyone involved in preparing for the restart of the season. However, the Government respects the decision of our local football clubs and we will not question it. The permission to resume football has been given by the Government, and if there is an opportunity for the clubs to reconsider, then I hope they will do so - so that our young people can return to what they love, competitive sport.
Some have questioned why football will not return, but international events are currently moving ahead. I want to be clear on this, and reiterate again, the Government gave permission for football to re-start and agreed with the BFA a strategy for how they can do so safely. Sadly the local clubs have made the decision not to continue the season.
The Government did not make this decision for them. Last year permission was given for many sporting events, the same permissions were given to both Cricket and the World Rugby Tens last year, both of these sports made the decision to commence under the guidelines provided, while the Eastern County Cricket Association decided they did not wish to hold their competition under the rules that were provided. The government provides the guidelines and organisations, decide whether they wish to go ahead or not.
Any events which are safely able to take place will hopefully benefit our economy and our local organisations. Earlier this month, the Government presented grants to 3 historically black sailing clubs, East-End Mini Yacht Club, West End Sailboat Club, and the Mid-Atlantic Boat Club to assist them with facility upgrades so that they can be involved in SailGP’s local initiatives. We were committed to supporting these clubs and recognised that if we can find money to support SailGP, we can also find funds to help local sailing clubs.
We also presented grants to 6 other local sporting and community clubs totalling over $398,000 to assist them in upgrades to their facilities, and purchasing essential equipment. These grants have already supported projects at clubs such as Devonshire Recreation Club, St. David’s Cricket Club, and Harrington’s Workmans Club, which has helped put Bermudians back to work by improving local clubs that serve the community.
Through initiatives such as these and numerous projects taking place under the Economic Stimulus programme currently underway, we are beginning the process of enhancing our infrastructure, and continuing to support local small & medium businesses.
In addition to supporting local businesses, we are also continuing to create opportunities for Bermudians within our tourism industry. Last week I, accompanied by the Junior Minister of Labour Arianna Hodgson, announced the new partnership with the St. Regis Hotel to provide training and employment for Bermudians within their organisation.
The opening of St.Regis will see 90 jobs created in the initial phase, and the training programmes, with the support of the Ministry of Labour, will help Bermudians to excel in these roles. I thank the owners of the St. Regis for their commitment to Bermuda, and the confidence they have shown in our country during these challenging economic times.
We have tools in our arsenal, such as the WeHealth app, to assist us in managing the spread of coronavirus, as well as the capacity for regular testing. It is up to all of us to help manage this outbreak. Whether you are in a school tomorrow, in church on Saturday or Sunday, or in a restaurant or bar this weekend, please continue to adhere to the regulations that are in place.
As I wrap up, 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.
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