Good Evening Bermuda,
Our goal as a country is to move beyond the pandemic. Through sacrifice, cooperation, and hard work, we have steadily made progress towards that goal over the last few months. We have seen a reduction in local transmission, a reduction in hospitalisation where we currently have no one in the hospital with the coronavirus, and continued progress with our vaccination programme.
These important milestones have allowed us to remove the majority of restrictions, allow more businesses to open, more Bermudians to get back to work, and more activities to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. However, we must remain conscious that the pandemic is not yet over and that the coronavirus can quickly impact our lives again if we let our guard down.
The only way for the coronavirus can enter our community again is through our borders, and this is why strong protections are necessary. The Government is committed to protecting Bermuda from dangerous variants that could see our progress undone as it has been in other countries around the world, such as Barbados, where a night-time curfew has been reinstated, after it was lifted two weeks ago, with no social gatherings banned, and spectators banned at sporting events.
The British Virgin Islands has also reimposed a night-time curfew, closed bars, gyms, and hairdressers for an initial 14-day period in response to an outbreak that has seen active cases increase from nearly 0 to 1147 within one week, and seen their country suffer an additional death.
There are many who have questioned the Government or asked us to change our strong approach to testing, border protection, and acceleration of our vaccination programme over the last few months. I would ask that those persons look to the examples I have given where countries that have not acted as decisively as Bermuda are now working to contain outbreaks and have had to reimpose restrictions in an effort to reduce coronavirus spread.
Our testing regime has been strong throughout the pandemic and has helped us to catch positive cases, to understand the variants that are affecting us, and make decisions based on science and data. Our border protections help us to keep dangerous variants out, and help us to keep our schools and camps open, restaurants, and other businesses thriving, and protect the freedoms that we enjoy here on-island, especially during the summer. Though some may not agree, I do not believe there anyone in our community who wants to see students sent home from camps or businesses closed again.
This evening we will hear from the Minister of Health on our continued progress with our vaccination programme, the latest coronavirus testing results, and other matters from her Ministry. We are also joined by the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Renee Ming who will provide the country with an update on the number of persons in mandatory hotel quarantine, enforcement, and other matters from her Ministry as well. The Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye, is present to address questions on antibodies and immunisation, as well as to answer any medical questions from the media. Tonight we are also joined by the Commissioner of Police Mr. Stephen Corbishley.
First, we will hear from the Minister of Health…
Thank you Premier, and good evening everyone.
The Ministry of Health received 7733 test results since the last update, and four (4) were positive for COVID-19. This gives a test positivity rate of 0.05%.
These results are from testing done on the following dates:
- Thursday, July 8: 2 positive out of 2050 results (0.1% positivity)
- Friday, July 9: 1 positive out of 1923 results (0.1% positivity)
- Saturday, July 10: 0 positive out of 1950 results (0.0% positivity)
- Sunday, July 11: 1 positive out of 1810 results (0.1% positivity)
All four (4) of the new cases are classified as imported with details as follows:
- 2 residents who arrived on British Airways BA 159 from London on 4 July 2021 and tested positive on their day 4 test
- 1 resident who arrived on American Airlines AA 2044 from Charlotte on 9 July 2021 and tested positive on their arrival test
- 1 resident who arrived on Delta Airlines DL 617 from New York on 7 July 2021 and tested positive on their Day 4 test
Additionally, since the last update, there were four (4) recoveries and no deaths.
There are currently 11 active cases, of which;
- 11 are under public health monitoring and;
- None are in the hospital.
Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 2525 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 2481 persons have recovered, and sadly, there have been 33 COVID related deaths.
The source of all cases is as follows:
- 329 are Imported
- 2193 are classified as local transmission of which:
o 1698 are Local transmission with known contact/source and
o 495 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- 3 are Under Investigation
As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change. The seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is less than 1. Bermuda’s current WHO country status remains “Sporadic Cases”. The decline of new coronavirus cases in Bermuda is encouraging, but we must not let our guard down. I want to thank the community for continuing to do their part in following the guidelines, caring about the health of all of us and helping to keep our community safe.
Yesterday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) adjusted the Travel Health Notice for Bermuda, de-escalating Bermuda’s status from Level 2, moderate level of COVID-19, to Level 1, low level of COVID-19 in Bermuda. This is good news for Bermuda and indeed a step in the right direction as we work hard to get more visitors to our shores.
I will now provide an update on our vaccination programme…
We have completed the twenty-sixth (26) full week of vaccinations. Since January 11th Bermuda has administered a total of 82,050 vaccinations.
Of the 82,050 vaccinations given as of July 10:
- 52% are women and,
- 48% are men
82.1% of all residents over the age of 65 years have had at least one vaccination and 80.8% are fully immunized.
To date, 64.8% of the population has been vaccinated (1 dose), and 63.3% of the population has been immunized (2 doses).
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is available at the KEMH vaccination centre. Walk-ins are available between 4 and 7pm Monday to Friday, or 8am to noon on Saturday. The vaccination centre is closed on Sundays.
I recognise that a lot of the reluctance around getting vaccinated comes from misinformation. However, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks at this time.
I encourage anyone who is trying to make up their mind about getting vaccinated, to seek information that is supported by science and rely on guidance from reliable sources.
Now is the definitely the time to get vaccinated while we have enough vaccine doses available. The sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner you are protected, the sooner our community is protected, and the sooner we can get back to normal.
The longer you wait to be vaccinated, the higher your risk of catching COVID-19, and the longer we will have restrictions.
The Government is extending vaccine-based resident SafeKeys by one month. Those vaccine-based SafeKeys that expire July 15 can go togov.bm/safekey to have their SafeKey extended to August 15.
For those needing assistance with their travel authorization, there is a toll-free number available for travellers calling the COVID-19 helpline from the United States and Canada. The number is 1-833-570-2594. Also, as additional staff is hired and trained, the Call Centre will be extending its hours of operation beyond the current 8.00am to 8.00pm.
In closing, there has been much discussion in the news media and on social media platforms about ‘natural immunity’. Let me be clear: having a prior infection of COVID-19 is not the equivalent of vaccination. A prior infection is not, and has never been, accepted as an approved ‘version’ of vaccination.
The CMO can speak in more detail regarding the difference between immunity from infection and immunity generated following immunization.
However, I can say the strength of the protection offered by the vaccine is designed to give the body the best chance of fighting off the virus with minimal side effects. The strength of protection offered by infection really depends on the amount of virus that enters the body and how ill the patient becomes.
Patients with milder infection generally have lower levels of antibodies in their system compared with patients who have severe infection and were hospitalized.
The best protection against COVID-19 is provided by vaccines.
Bermuda’s list of approved vaccines, which will allow a traveller to be exempt from 14-day quarantine includes: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, the Serum Institute of India’s Covishield (which is AstraZeneca), Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
Please remember, each of us must do our part to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It is essential that we all follow Public Health guidelines, as I stated before, and wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene, maintain physical distance and download the WeHealth Bermuda app.
Do the research, talk with a reliable source and make an informed decision about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a wealth of information about the vaccines online at gov.bm.
Thank you Minister.
And thank you for the work that you and your team at the Ministry continue to do as we move beyond the pandemic. To be close to 65% of our population fully immunised against the coronavirus is a feat that we should all take comfort in as it means that a significant majority of our population are protected from severe illness, and that we continue to improve community protection.
As the Government submitted to the Supreme Court in the legal challenge last week, our statistics show that since June 20th, unvaccinated travellers are 19.6 times more likely to test positive on or after arrival in Bermuda. Since May 3rd, no vaccinated travellers who have tested positive have transmitted the virus to others. The only local transmission from imported cases has been from unvaccinated travellers. This data speaks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as the reasonings for the protections we have in place at our borders with mandatory hotel quarantine, which has been enacted and is law.
The Government must be driven by science, not emotion, not political point-scoring, not WhatsApp forwards, but science. It is what has made us successful to date, and we must continue to trust the science.
Every citizen in this country has a legitimate expectation that the laws enacted by their democratically elected representatives will be followed and, when not followed, enforced. This weekend we saw a planned and deliberate breach of the law which to date has gone unenforced.
Let me be clear: the Government’s policy on the requirement for supervised hotel quarantine of unvaccinated travellers is unchanged, and the expectation is that the law will be enforced. The attempts of some in this community to make false comparisons of the selfish and reckless actions we all witnessed with some recognised historical causes for social justice and hard-won freedoms are quite frankly offensive.
I have made the Government’s position on this matter clear to the Governor, and I wish to leave no doubt in the minds of others who may take it upon themselves to test our resolve. The expectation of the Government is that there will be compliance with the law, and where the law is breached, there will be enforcement.
I now invite the Minister of National Security on the quarantine hotel operation and other matters from her Ministry that she may wish to share…
( not received at the time of posting)
Thank you, Minister and your team for your management of this operation, and for your vital work throughout the pandemic.
While we know that quarantine of any kind is not easy, I am glad that the Government can support a number of Bermudians who are required to do so by covering the cost of their stay.
We are also grateful to the dozens of persons who are in quarantine and simply following the guidance, cooperating, and remaining there until it is time for them to leave after 14 days. Thank you also to all of the hotels involved, as well as their staff, and the security staff assisting the Ministry of National Security.
The CMO will now provide clarity on why antibodies are not currently accepted as a form of immunisation in Bermuda for the purposes of protection of the border…
To understand the difference between immunity after infection and immunity after vaccination, we need to understand the way the body reacts to a foreign body, in this case the SARS-COV-2 Virus. When a Virus enters the body, the Antigen Presenting Cells (APC) recognize it, engulf it and break it down to its components. These components are then expressed on the surface of the APC to activate a part of the immune system called T- Lymphocytes.
T- Lymphocytes activate the “killer cells” that find and kill the virus or infected cells. T-Lymphocytes also activate another group of cells called the B- Lymphocytes. The B-Lymphocytes change into two types of cells – the plasma cells that produce large amounts of antibodies and the memory cells that lay dormant but can be activated by a future infection.
The difference between immunity from infection and the immunity generated following vaccination is that instead of the whole virus being introduced to the body, only one part of the virus is introduced. This means that with vaccination, there is a consistent reaction to one component of the Virus (the spike protein in mRNA vaccines) which is given in measured doses.
The advantage of vaccination is that it is predictable. The immunity is to a specific part of the virus (the spike protein) and it is easily measured. With infection, immunity to the virus can be to different parts of the virus and the protection offered is not consistent. The strength of the protection offered by the vaccine is designed to give the body the best chance of fighting off the virus with minimal side effects. The strength of protection offered by infection depends on the amount of virus that enters the body and how ill the patient becomes. Patients with milder infection generally have lower levels of antibodies in their system compared with patients who have severe infection resulting in hospitalization.
The vaccines are designed to provide protection over a wide variety of mutations of the Virus as the targets on the spike protein are broad. This is not always the case with natural infection. The practical application of this is that vaccines provide a wider range of protection against variants of this virus and helps to keep new outbreaks from starting.
The length of immunity after infection varies widely. As stated earlier, this depends on the strength of the infection and the parts of the virus that immunity is developed against. There have been studies to show that immunity following infection starts to wane after 3-8 months. Immunity developed as a result of the vaccine is more consistent. Trial participants have evidence of ongoing immunity against the virus. The length of the immunity following vaccination is still being investigated.
Several countries around the world have abandoned plans to achieve community immunity from infection. The cost in human lives, immediate and long-term ill health is simply too great. Many countries in Europe starting out with this policy have had to pivot because of the misery caused by deaths, poor outcomes and overwhelmed health systems.
Recent data shows that the data provide further documentation that those who’ve had and recovered from a COVID-19 infection still stand to benefit from getting vaccinated. The evidence continues to suggest that acquired immunity from vaccines still offers substantial protection against the new variants now circulating around the globe.
Measuring the protection offered after vaccination and natural infection can be complex. The commonly used test (antibody test) only measures one of the several components of immunity. It requires careful interpretation as the level of antibody fluctuates significantly and must be considered in epidemiologic context. The National Testing Policy published by the COVID-19 Strategic Testing Committee reviews the evidence and states that antibody body testing should be used only as part of patient or outbreak investigation.
Thank you, CMO for explaining the science that the Government must follow, and are following to keep our country safe.
As we continue to move beyond the pandemic, we have been able to enjoy the return of sport and a return of our important summer cricket events. This weekend Bermuda can again enjoy the Eastern Counties Cup Series at the Sea Breeze Oval. The Government of Bermuda is proud to support Eastern Counties Cricket Association with a $20,000 grant to ensure the event is a success.
The Eastern Counties has been permitted to allow 1,250 fans into grounds, and all in attendance must be in possession of SafeKey. Persons can obtain a SafeKey through receipt of a negative coronavirus test, which will be valid for 72 hours from the time of testing. Anyone needing a test in order to obtain a SafeKey for this Saturday’s Eastern Counties match can go to Clocktower Mall (Dockyard) Wednesday & Friday 10am – 3pm, or Penno’s Wharf Thursday, 10am – 3pm, or they can book an appointment at Bull’s Head on Wednesday,Thursday or Friday, and you can book at coronavirus.gov.bm.
Persons with a vaccine-based SafeKey will be able to renew it this Thursday, 15 July, when it is currently set to expire, for another month until 15 August. They can do this, and learn more about SafeKey by going to gov.bm/safekey and clicking the link at the top of the page to renew.
All persons attending must have a valid ID along with their SafeKey. SafeKey is checked with the ID to ensure it is being used by the correct person.
As we enjoy our progress locally, we can also be proud of the resurgence of our tourism industry. As tourist was able to restart in 2020, we learned that the reason persons chose Bermuda was that they felt safe thanks to our successful management of the coronavirus through rigorous testing and appropriate regulations that balanced public health and economic activity.
The confidence amongst our visitors and gateway countries has been carried into 2021, with the CDC recently announcing the lowering of Bermuda’s covid status from Level 2- moderate levels of coronavirus, to Level 1- low levels of the coronavirus. This following Bermuda’s addition to the U.K’s green list at the end of June. Excellent progress.
These achievements will only help our already improving tourism statistics, which shows hotel occupancy increasing in some cases approaching 2019 levels. Bookings are strong.
With the success of the Homeporting programme, which has begun with the Viking ‘Orion’ Cruiseship, we are now seeing increased interest from other cruise lines to come to our shores. The Minister of Transport continues to work with these cruise lines to set out the necessary requirements, and I am confident we will see more cruise ships in Bermuda this season. But this is only possible due to our border policies which are designed to keep dangerous variants out of Bermuda.
The Government will also continue to support Bermudians in need, as we recognise that the economic impact of the pandemic will not dissipate as quickly as we would like. Yesterday, the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jason Hayward announced the extension of the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit until March 2022. Through this programme, the Government has provided over $1 million of support to 127 families and will continue to assist individuals and families in their time of need.
Our determination to support Bermudians also includes our plans for Economic Recovery for our country. Initiatives such as the Economic Investment Certificates, which are a part of the Government’s Economic Recovery Plan, are a critical component to that recovery and have already attracted more than $30 million of investment in our local economy since it commenced on March 1st.
This shows the progress already being made as the Government is able to refocus its energy and resources from tackling the coronavirus, to stimulating our economy, providing opportunities for growth, and helping to get Bermudians back to work as we successfully execute our strategy to move beyond the pandemic.
Before I close, I would like to share a story from this weekend. My wife and I were invited to an event on Saturday night, and I had a conversation with a staff member working at the event. This young lady said, “Premier, I am not vaccinated, and I do not agree with everything you have done but thank you for working to keep us safe”. She then told me that this is the first time that she has worked an event since the beginning of the pandemic, and she is thankful for the leadership of the Government that enabled her to return to do something that she loves.
As a country, progress means nothing without unity. As can be seen my interaction with the young lady, unity does not mean we agree on every point and action, but that even when we disagree, we find the common ground and understanding needed to move forward and work to achieve our goals. That is what the Government of Bermuda is committed to, that is what this Cabinet is committed to, and that is what we will continue to do in order to successfully execute our strategy to move beyond the pandemic.
With that, I am happy to take questions from members of the media.