COVID-19 Update – 23 February 2021
Tonight I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson who will provide you with updates on the latest vaccination statistics, the Bermuda Health Council Drug Formulary Regulations 2021, and further updates from her ministry.Following the Minister, I will discuss the extension of the Public Health Emergency, the Cannabis legislation, the upcoming 2021/2022 Budget, and other matters.
- 9 are under public health monitoring and
- 1 is in hospital with none in critical care;
- a total of 681 have recovered, and
- the total deceased remains at 12.
The mean age of all confirmed positive cases is 43 years (median: 40 years) and the ages range from less than 1 year to greater than 100 years.The mean age of all currently active cases is 43 years (median: 41 years) and the ages range from less than 20 years (age group: 10-29 years) to greater than 70 years (age group: 70-79 years).To protect privacy and confidentiality, age information will not be provided on the hospitalized case.The mean age of all deceased cases is 75 years (median: 77 years) and the ages range from less than 60 years (age group: 50-59 years) to greater than 80 years (age group: 80-100 years).The source of all cases is as follows:
- 209 are Imported
- 493 are classified as local transmission of which:
- 402 are Local transmission with known contact/source and
- 91 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- 1 is Under Investigation
As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.
Of the more than 170,000 test results reported, the mean age of all persons tested is 43 years (median: 42 years) and the ages range from less than 1 year to greater than 100 years.
Additionally, during the week of 14 to 20 February, 681 saliva screening tests were conducted. Therefore, as of 20 February 2021, results have been received for 5804 saliva screenings. The mean age of all persons screened is 58 years (median: 59 years) and the ages range from less than 10 years to greater than 100 years.
The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1 and Bermuda’s current country status is “Sporadic Cases”.
I must emphasise the public health measures put in place over the Christmas and New Year period, and since then, were critical in controlling the most recent outbreak. Having all residents and visitors adhere to these measures was what enabled our country status changed from “clusters of cases” to “sporadic cases”. We have provided the necessary information to the Centres for Disease Control to aid in a reassessment of our destination health risk level. Currently, we are classified as Level 4 (COVID-19 risk is very high) but our metrics put us at Level 1 (COVID-19 risk is low).
For those who are travelling, I will remind you, again, that if you need outbound COVID-19 tests you must book yourself in for outbound travel testing via one of the community sites at Penno’s Wharf, Bull’s Head or Star of India at least two days before the date you plan to leave Bermuda. This meets the 72-hour rule imposed by the US, UK and Canada, and gives the MDL lab time to process your results.
Do not get the test the day before travel or, worse, on the day of travel as this leaves no room for unexpected delays.You can book through: gov.bm/coronavirus-get-tested. There will be no walk-ins.Also, starting next week, all the community testing sites will have the same operational hours of 10.00am to 4.00pm.I will now provide an update on our vaccine programme, which plays a key role in Bermuda’s return to normal…
- 9,028 (or 55%) are women, and,
- 7,349 (or 45%) are men.
Bermuda’s goal of “herd immunity” will be achieved when 70% of the population (64,054) has been immunized. To date, 18% of the population has been vaccinated (with 1 dose) and 7% of the population has been immunized (with 2 doses).
Each week since January 11 has seen an increase in the number of vaccinations administered, with 3,804 vaccinations delivered last week. The public has accessed these vaccines as follows:
- The Vaccination Centre at Bermuda College (previously at the Police Recreation Club) administered 9,373 or 57% of vaccinations,
- 6,119 or 37% were administered at the Bermuda Hospitals Board Vaccination Centre,
- 744 or 5% were administered at rest homes and long term care facilities, and
- 141 or 1% were administered at Other Vaccination Sites.
Assessed against Bermuda’s vaccination priority targets:-
In Phase 1A
- 1,605 persons or 51% of those aged 80 years and older have been vaccinated. 638 have had one vaccination, and 967 (31%) are fully immunized.
- 373 person or 50% of residents in rest homes and long term care have been vaccinated. 72 have had one vaccination, and 301 (41%) are fully immunized.
- 1,303 health care workers or 53% have been vaccinated. 347 have had one vaccination and 956 (39%) are fully immunized.
- 1,316 essential workers or 56% have been vaccinated. 596 have had one vaccination and 720 (30%) are fully immunized.
In Phase 1B
· 4,193 persons or 44% of those aged 65 – 79 years have been vaccinated. 2,533 have had one vaccination and 1,660 (17%) are fully immunized.
These are great results so far, and I would like to thank all those who have taken the step to get their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and our community.I would like to remind residents that we are now in Phase 2 of Bermuda’s COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy.Phase 2 is residents who are 50 years or older, have been diagnosed with heart disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, have a disability, are of no fixed abode or essential travelers – persons who must travel for medical purposes or to return to school.If you fit the criteria for Phase 2, you should register for an appointment by completing the registration form at forms.gov.bm/covid.If you were eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1A and 1B group and have not registered yet, please do so today. If you are not able to access the registration form online, ask a friend, neighbor or family member to register you online or you can call 444 2498 and select option 2. The Ministry of Health’s appointment process will ensure that you keep your priority status.
I know that callers have been having difficulty getting through. Please know that the system upgrades are completed now and additional staff are being put in place to answer your calls. This is important, so if you don’t succeed the first time, please try again. The volume of calls is high and we have expanded the hours of operation to accommodate this. The Vaccine Hotline is open from 8.30am to 5.00pm Monday – Friday, and 9.00am to 1.30 pm on Saturdays.
With regard to the numbers of persons who have registered interest… To the week ending February 20, 19,389 persons have registered their interest in getting vaccinated. The breakdown is as follows:
- 4,445 Black
- 9,208 White
- 2,124 Mixed or Other, and,
- 3,612 Prefer not to say or Not Specified.
For those of you who have registered already – thank you and please encourage your family and friends who may be in the priority groups to register.
The Ministry of Health is starting to see the positive results, and a true measure of the effectiveness of vaccines, in data being reported from around the world. Countries, like Bermuda, that have implemented aggressive vaccination programmes are now seeing decreases, and in some countries, dramatic decreases, in the numbers of persons infected with the coronavirus and the numbers hospitalised.
That is the type of beneficial outcome we are anticipating for Bermuda as we vaccinate more and more people.This does mean not we can stop the other public health measures that we have – please, continue to wear your masks, practice physical distancing, employ good hand hygiene and download the WeHealth Bermuda app, even if you are now immunised.I am also pleased to announce a partnership with the Ministry of Health and Age Concern Bermuda to provide assistance to their members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.Starting next Monday March 1, adults aged 50+ who require assistance with transportation to their scheduled vaccine appointment can call Age Concern on 238 7525 to arrange free transportation. In order to receive this free service, individuals must have already registered and received their vaccination appointment. The transportation is being provided by Project Action and will include travel to and drop-off after your vaccination appointment, and is good for travel to vaccinations at both the Hospital and the Vaccination Centre at Bermuda College.
These types of partnerships are vital as we must all work together to ensure that everyone who wants to be vaccinated, has the opportunity to do so. Across the world, experts agree that transitioning beyond this pandemic depends on the prevalence of immunity, especially among older and more vulnerable populations. The single most important thing we can do as individuals to achieve the population-wide immunity that slows down the virus’s spread is to get vaccinated. If we don’t, we risk additional outbreaks that will come at a terrible cost, and this is not something that we wish to experience.
As announced last week, there will be changes to the Travellers’ First 14 Days for immunized persons from next week. We recognise these changes will most immediately impact persons seeking to dine indoors, go to the gym, play contact sports and the like. They will also impact other public health guidance such as the ‘return to work’ and ‘return to school’ policies. Until the amendments to public health guidance have been thoroughly reviewed and agreed by Cabinet – which will be next week – nothing has changed! If you are immunized now, you must continue to adhere to all the public health guidance which was in place before you were immunized and which continues to be in place now.
On Friday of last week, I tabled amendments to the Bermuda Health Council Act 2004 to bring about important and overdue changes to the high cost of medications faced by many Bermudians.
The Progressive Labour Party promised Bermuda in the 2020 Party Platform that we would establish a National Drug Formulary that will set maximum pricing for common essential medications, which reduce costs to consumers.
The purpose of the Bermuda Health Council Amendment Act 2021 that was tabled, is to support the function of the Council in regulating the price at which drugs are sold to the public by establishing in law the Bermuda Health Council (Drug Formulary) Regulations 2021.
The objective is not to control the price of every medication sold in Bermuda. Rather, the Bermuda Drug Formulary will comprise the list of common essential medications such as Metformin (used for type 2 diabetes) and Prednisone (used in the treatment of arthritis, blood disorders, cancer and eye problems), along with associated products and devices used in medical treatments, which are intended to be medically appropriate, cost-effective and sold at a regulated price.
This pandemic has highlighted the struggles of those in our community who are uninsured and underinsured, and establishing a drug formulary to at least place price controls on common essential medications will help.
Before I close, in my remarks last week, there was some conflicting information about the numbers vaccinated in the over 80-year-old group. We reported that 1834 were vaccinated for coverage of 59%.
The number in today’s report of 1605 vaccinated for 51% coverage is correct, and last week’s number was 47%. I apologise for this reporting error.
As always, please continue to follow the public health measures and guidelines put in place for our collective safety. Continue to wear your mask and practice physical distancing. And get vaccinated when it is your turn.
Thank you, Minister….
I thank you and your team for your tireless work on the frontlines of this pandemic. Through your efforts and the efforts of the doctors, nurses, Public Health staff and volunteers at our vaccination centres, we are getting closer to our goal of having 19,000 persons fully immunized by March 31st.
With 17,073 doses administered through yesterday, Bermuda remains among the top ten countries (according to ourworldindata.org) in the world for vaccinations administered relative to population size. What is most important is that the number of doses administered increased this week by 24%, which demonstrates that the move to the Bermuda College has had its intended effect of increasing the pace of our vaccination program.
While this is very welcomed news, it is vital for all Bermudians to understand that this is not a time to let your guard down. We have all worked hard to put our country in a place where curfew can be removed, and measures can be relaxed. Let us not undo that hard work by neglecting our collective responsibility to adhere to the measures still in place.
As we know, it only takes one person to start an outbreak, and it is vital that we remain vigilant. Please ensure that you continue to follow the regulations, specifically the regulations governing the amount of persons that can gather. In addition to that, the regulations which are necessary and required for mastering physical distances to ensure that you are doing what is necessary to reduce the potential spread of a virus.
Failure to adhere to these measures endangers the community and the progress we have made. I want to be clear that the Government will not hesitate to reimpose measures such as curfew if it is deemed necessary in the interest of public health.
Now I know that there is some commentary in the public domain that the Government has been heavy handed in its approach. Let me address those criticisms this way. I would prefer to be criticized for being heavy handed than to be criticized for having excess debt and endless lockdowns, which can be seen in other countries. Bermuda has not had a shelter in place, which ended at the beginning of last May; we have not had to shut down non-essential businesses with the exception of bars and nightclubs since the previous outbreak.
Whereas we’ve seen in many different countries, whether that be in the United States, whether it be the United Kingdom, Europe, whether it be the Caribbean, or other places where we have seen a significant amount of restrictions, which have happened, and have continued.
Our heavy handed actions preserve economic activity and allowed the opportunity for limited tourism in this country for people to earn a living. That is a record that I’m proud of, and for persons who criticize the Government for being heavy handed, unfortunately I must disappoint you because we have choices to make. And this Government is going to make sure that we choose the side of ensuring that we keep the country safe while striking the balance to allow economic activity to continue.
Last Friday, February 19th, during the first session of the House of Assembly in 2021, the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson recommended a 60-day extension of the Public Health Emergency Order. This was passed in the House on Friday and yesterday was approved by the Senate. The Public Health Emergency is therefore extended until April 25, 2021, and at which time we will assess whether further extensions may be needed.
Also during the House session, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs & Constitutional Reform, the Hon. Kathy Simmons led the debate on the Cannabis Licensing Act which was originally tabled in December 2020. This Act ushers in a new regulatory regime, licensing all activities involved to cultivation, import, export, production, research, sale, supply, use or transport of cannabis or medicinal cannabis in Bermuda. This Bill was brought to the House of Assembly after an extensive consultation process with the experts in health, law enforcement, and finance.
The Government also consulted the public throughout the development of the Cannabis Licensing Act to ensure that it reflected the desires of the Bermudian people. The feedback the Government received was that there was a desire for change to our cannabis laws which would permit licensing and regulations for cannabis activities to displace the illicit market.
Regulation and licensing will ensure that Bermuda benefits economically from the cannabis industry. It will also ensure that it provides easy and simple access to medicinal cannabis, which is right now, very difficult due to our complex regulations.
The Government is committed to ensuring licensing is accessible to those Bermudians who have been negatively affected by cannabis prohibition, the majority of whom are black Bermudians. The Government anticipates they will take the opportunity to use their expertise to open businesses, conduct research and contribute to this newly regulated sector of our economy. I thank the Attorney-General and her team for their outstanding work in preparing this Bill, and I look forward to the Bill’s progress the Senate next week.
I also thank the Members of Parliament for the Progressive Labour Party who were encouraged to speak and vote with their conscience rather than in line with the party.
In keeping with developments in the House of Assembly regarding our economy, the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jason Hayward introduced the Government’s Economic Investment and Residential Certificate policy. There has been much said about this policy, such as it is nothing different from what previous Governments have proposed, which may have been opposed by the party of which I represent.
While it is correct that the Economic Investment Certificate is not new, this policy contains significant changes from the previous requirements that were in place which solely benefited wealthy persons who wished to live in Bermuda. Previously wealthy persons who wanted to live in Bermuda indefinitely would only have to pay a $525 a year fee for a Residential Certificate and were not required to make any investments in Bermuda. This new policy will require wealthy persons who wish to reside in Bermuda to make an economic contribution to the country. These changes ensure that more Bermudians can benefit from wealthy persons who choose to reside here by requiring them to support our economy’s well-being.
This coming Friday, February 26th, the Minister of Finance, the Hon. Curtis Dickinson will present the 2021-2022 Budget to the House of Assembly and the people of Bermuda. It will no doubt be a budget greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and the substantial economic impact it has had on our country. The Budget will outline the Government’s focus on rebuilding and diversifying our economy and keeping our promises from the 2020 election platform, and the 2020 Throne Speech.
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.
Again, the phone number is 543-1111. Please call as help is available.
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