Bermuda Government COVID-19 December 22 2020

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Good evening Bermuda, and welcome members of the media.

I am joined today by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Walter Roban and the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Renee Ming. My colleagues will provide an update from their respective ministries. Following that, I will give an update on matters related to the coronavirus.

Minister of Health.

Good Afternoon,

There were 1000 test results received by the Ministry of Health since the last update and six were positive for COVID-19.

Three of the new cases are classified as imported – all were residents with pre-arrival tests who arrived on BA2233 from London on 16 December 2020 and testing positive on their day 4 test.

One of the new cases is classified as local transmission with known contact/source as associated with a known case.

The remaining new cases are classified as under investigation. These cases are among residents with no currently identified links to other known cases or clusters or history of travel in the past 14 days.

Additionally, four cases have recovered since the last update.

Bermuda now has 553 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows.

There are 253 active cases, of which

  • 249 are under public health monitoring and
  • 4 are hospitalized with none in critical care;
  • a total of 291 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The mean age of all confirmed positive cases is 43 years (median: 39 years) and the age range is less than 1 year to greater than 100 years.

The mean age of all currently active cases is 36 years (median: 31 years) and the age range is less than 5 years to greater than 80 years.

To protect privacy and confidentiality, the average age and age range of the hospitalized cases will not be provided.

The mean age of all deceased cases is 74 years (median: 74 years) and the age range is less than 60 years to greater than 80 years.

The source of all cases is as follows:

  • 148 are Imported
  • 324 are classified as local transmission of which:
  • 302 are Local transmission, with known contact/source and
  • 22 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
  • 81 are Under Investigation

As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.

Today’s update has 4 cases moved from under investigation to local transmission with a known contact/source as they are associated with known cases/clusters.

The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1 (0.78) and Bermuda’s current country status is “Clusters of Cases”.

You will note the Ministry of Health has changed how the age breakdown of cases is reported. Understanding that the purpose of public health communication is to provide information for action and behaviour change, there needs to be a balance between the level of information supplied to the public and the privacy and confidentiality of persons diagnosed with COVID-19. As such, today and going forward, specific ages of cases are not being used in the reporting of age ranges. Additionally, if there are a small number of cases in any category (active cases, hospitalizations) an age breakdown will not be provided.

Given the higher number of positive cases reported in recent weeks, it should be noted that the majority of transmissions have occurred in recreational environments.

As Bermuda’s gateway cities experienced a second (or third) wave of novel coronavirus infections in the fall, it was almost inevitable that we would see a corresponding uptick in infections as well, here in Bermuda. While this did happen, it is important to point out that the spread of COVID-19 throughout Bermuda is on all of us. We cannot simply ‘blame the traveller’. We must take ownership for the health of our island as it is our own individual actions as residents which make the difference and break the chain of spread.

When the Ministry of Health asks everyone to avoid ‘the 3 Cs’ (Closed spaces, Crowded places and Close contact settings)  this is why: Over the course of one weekend in November, there were three gatherings of people at two venues that resulted in more than 80 people testing positive for and contracting COVID-19 and 550 people being placed in quarantine. One weekend.

One of the venues was a sports club, where numerous people became infected. Investigations by our contact tracers indicate that from there, a bar, a retail business, another club, and several workplaces ended up with positive cases. Bermuda, this is not good.

In the first two weeks of October, 4 people tested positive for COVID-19. In the first two weeks of December, 205 people tested positive, and we continue to feel the impact of the transmission which occurred on that one weekend in November.

This holiday season, we must, as a community, follow the public health guidance and measures put in place to stop the spread. We cannot be irresponsible about COVID-19 – a virus that is so easily transmissible. Our vulnerable populations require all the protection we can possibly give them by shielding them from this virus.

So please be safe this holiday and avoid the 3 Cs. And if you are a student who has returned home from study overseas recently or think you may have recently been in contact with a positive case, think carefully about every interaction you have. If you are a returning traveller who has not received a negative Day 14 result, do not go round to granny’s house to visit her. Do not go over to your friend’s house whose mother is going through chemotherapy. Do not visit your pregnant sister, your diabetic aunt, your elderly neighbor. We must protect our vulnerable.

Also, if you will be hosting or attending a gathering during the holiday season that brings people who live in different households together please listen to the following:

  • There should be no more than ten people together at one time.
  • Ensure people from different households are able to remain at least 6 feet apart. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
  • Host outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible.
  • Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors.
  • Require guests to your household to wear masks, except when eating or drinking.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items, such as serving utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Wear a mask while preparing food for or serving food to others who don’t live in your household.
  • Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.
  • Wash dishes in the dishwasher or with hot soapy water immediately following the gathering.

The more of these prevention measures that you put in place, the safer your gathering will be. No one measure is enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I would also like to issue a reminder to both retail and grocery stores to please continue to enforce physical distancing during this busy time.

Likewise, I would like to remind customers to adhere to the physical distancing directives…markers are placed on the floor for a reason. Just because you are wearing a mask that doesn’t mean you can stand closely behind the person in front of you while lining up for the cashier or reaching past someone for something on a shelf.

While winter camps for children are open and able to operate, there are a few stipulations for operating…

Attending children must be 5 years or older otherwise organizers will technically be operating “day care centres” which have their own set of rules and guidance.

Camps must register with the Ministry of Health and Department of Youth and Sport; the registration form can be found online at gov.bm.

Camp group sizes are limited to ten (which includes staff and children), and there needs to be a large enough indoor and outdoor space so that 6ft distancing can be maintained at all times.

Accurate records must be kept by organizers for contact tracing purposes and staff must be vigilant for COVID-19 symptoms every day and take steps to minimize the risk of spreading germs.

For example, children should be kept in the same groups with the same staff member throughout the duration of the programme. Children should not be mixed from one group to another or activity to activity…and water bottles, food containers and toys should not be shared.

For more information regarding camps please go to gov.bm/camp-guidance

For those that do test positive and who are in quarantine, as are their close contacts, I can advise that Bermuda Regiment soldiers are currently being deployed as ‘Covid Marshalls’ to conduct quarantine checks. They are in teams, covering east, west and central parishes. They are checking to ensure quarantine requirements are being met and also checking on symptoms and providing contact phone numbers if those quarantined individuals have any questions. If you are supposed to be quarantining, make sure the Covid Marshalls find you at home!

Also, there have been a number of questions regarding the new strain of the coronavirus…

On 14 December 2020, authorities of the United Kingdom reported that a SARS-CoV-2 variant has been identified through viral genomic sequencing. Given that this strain can be dated back to September 2020 in UK, the latest report from PAHO states that it is likely this virus is already circulating elsewhere.

Further studies are needed to determine if this new strain is different in terms of the severity of disease it causes. However, the UK government has reported that there is no evidence at this stage to suggest the Covid-19 vaccines currently being rolled out across the UK will not work against the new variant of coronavirus.

It is important to note that all viruses change over time. There have so far been hundreds of variations of this virus identified worldwide. To date, most changes of this virus have had little to no impact on how it transmits or the severity of disease it causes.

The occurrence of mutations is a natural and expected event within the evolution process of the virus.

Evidence indicates that the SARSCoV-2 viral variants identified to date have a much lesser influence on the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19 than other risk factors, such as age, underlying conditions, or even social behavior.

Bermuda has not been routinely sequencing our positive cases so we can’t say for sure yet if this particular strain is already circulating. However, this is something we hope to start doing in January, as we do have the equipment to conduct nanopore sequencing on island. This will be led by Dr. Carika Weldon who was the Project Manager and Lead Researcher for nanopore sequencing at Oxford University.

On balance, as the virus strain has been around since September, it seems unlikely it isn’t here already which is why we have not closed our border to the United Kingdom.

However, the Ministry is putting in place additional quarantine restrictions for those travelling to Bermuda from the UK and those who have travelled in the UK in the past 14 days before coming to the island. Regardless of whether or not those UK travellers have a pre-arrival test, they will be required to quarantine in their accommodation for four days, and cannot be released from quarantine until they have a day 4 negative test result. This will provide an added layer of protection for all of us.

In closing, I would like to remind the public about the availability of the Community Mental Wellbeing Hotline – 543-1111. The line is open Monday to Saturday, 5-9pm.

The wellness hotline is for:

  • those who are feeling anxious;
  • people who may be stressed while taking care of loved ones;
  • seniors who may feel isolated;
  • people who are having a hard time with the isolation;
  • and those caring for their loved ones who just want to chat.

…Those are just a few examples.

Support is free of charge to the public as funding has been made available through the Bermuda Foundation with support from the Health Innovation Fund.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Wilson. I want to thank you and your team for the exceptional work that you have been doing over the past few weeks in tackling this outbreak. I am grateful to see the numbers coming down, and I know that if we as a country continue to do what is required, then we can see an end to this outbreak.

Last week Friday we experienced a power failure that affected all of BELCO’s customers. The Deputy Premier is the Minister Responsible for Regulatory Affairs, which includes energy regulation, and will give an update on this matter on behalf of the Government.

Deputy Premier

Good Evening Bermuda:

Last week Friday, the impact of the island-wide outage went far beyond the loss of electricity. Government is aware and sensitive to the fact that many businesses lost revenue as a result of their forced closure which also had an adverse effect on their staff who would have also lost wages as well.

This unforeseen occurrence has undoubtedly added to the current hardships being experienced by all residents, businesses and employees, due to the pandemic. The Government empathizes with all who were affected.

Unfortunately for the residents of Bermuda, this is not the first time that a blackout occurred this year, albeit the previous occurrence was not an island-wide event. In August 2020, the west end of the island, from Warwick to Sandy’s lost power.

Yesterday, there was a loss of power to over 300 customers. This sequence of disruptions, while, I am sure, is of great concern to the community, I must emphasize it is also of grave concern to the Government.

I have informed the Chairman of the Regulatory Authority (RA) of Government’s position that BELCO, sole generation and energy distribution provider, must be held accountable and answerable to the residents of Bermuda.

As the only provider that currently holds the only transmission, distribution and retail (TD&R) licence, BELCO has a greater duty to ensure that there is a plan to mitigate all risks within their control, whether maintenance, security or otherwise. Such events as the one that occurred on Friday does nothing to enhance the island’s reputation, especially as defined by Section 6 of the Electricity Act 2016 which outlines the purposes of the Act, particularly 6(a): “to ensure the adequacy, safety, sustainability and reliability of electricity supply in Bermuda so that Bermuda continues to be well-positioned to compete in the international business and global tourism markets.”

As Minister responsible for Energy and regulatory affairs, I have directed the RA to provide the Ministry of Home Affairs with the following information as a matter of urgency: (1) the date it anticipates receipt of a report from BELCO; (2) the date it expects to report on its assessment of the events of Friday; and (3) its recommendation as to how this matter should be addressed.

The Government is most concerned about the island-wide outage event last week and of parish outages that are happening more frequently.  Government will hold the RA accountable to make specific recommendations including: (a) *possibly* stronger reporting requirements, such risk mitigation plans, and (b) possibly stronger penalties for non-compliance.

My letter today indicated that I expect a report as a matter of urgency. On behalf of the Government and the Ministry of Home Affairs, I would like to reassure the public that we will do all we can to provide answers relating to this unfortunate occurrence.

Thank you, Deputy, for that update. As of tomorrow, I will be taking a vacation and the Deputy Premier will act in my stead. I am certain that all persons will support him with the decisions that may be required over the Holiday, and I’m certain that he will ensure that all remain informed.

The Minister of National Security will now provide an update from her Ministry and also cover matters related to enforcement of the Public Health Emergency Regulations that have been extended to ensure that we put an end to this outbreak.

Minister of National Security

Thank you Premier.

This evening, I will touch on matters to do with the Department of Corrections, the Bermuda Police Service, the Royal Bermuda Regiment, the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, and the Customs Department.

First and foremost I wish to extend my appreciation to all of our officers in these Departments, as well as to the Disaster Risk Reduction Mitigation (DRRM) Team, who under very strained conditions ensured that our emergency services continued operating during the island-wide blackout last Friday.

This national event caused considerable anxiety throughout our community.

And we’re thankful that all of our uniformed services continued to safeguard and protect the public under extraordinary circumstances.

Turning to Department of Corrections, I can advise that all our facilities continue to operate without major disruptions or incidents.

The department continues to manage our current Covid-19 cases in accordance with Department of Health guidelines and in keeping with the Department of Corrections’ pandemic plan.

And the department will continue the regular COVID-19 testing of staff and inmates at all our facilities.

I should note that all visits by members of the public to our facilities have been suspended until the end of this year.

We will review the reinstatement of visitation in January 2021.

Lastly, I want to once again reassure the public that we’re taking all of the necessary actions and precautions to ensure that those who work and reside at our facilities are safeguarded and protected.

Switching to the Bermuda Police Service, I advised last week that the COVID Compliance Team have stepped up their efforts in ensuring the community’s compliance with COVID-19 regulations.

Regrettably 10 persons were cited for various breaches of the regulations.

As it relates to the COVID-19 violations, I want to be clear about the process, as there’s been some commentary as to why there aren’t immediate arrests and subsequent prosecutions.

Simply put, if a breach occurs at a check point, or at an establishment, or at another location, the BPS will take the requisite information or details of the person or persons in violation. A file is then compiled and sent to the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The DPP considers whether there needs to be any further action, such as a court appearance. Make no mistake though, the Bermuda Police Service have a mandate to enforce the regulations and will continue to do so even over the holiday period.

As a reminder, this weekend, the BPS conduct their road sobriety checkpoints, which will also take place over the New Year’s holiday. So again, we’re urging the public to make sensible choices.

This includes exercising safe and responsible driving habits on our roads. Sadly, this is the time of year, when we tend to see increases in road traffic collisions and anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol.

So we’re urging people not to drink and drive, or make sure they have a designated driver.

Also I can advise that the Bermuda Coast Guard will have an operational presence across the Island’s waters throughout the holiday period, enforcing all regulations.

Boat operators are reminded of the updated laws regarding drink driving on the water, and to always act in a manner which puts everyone’s safety first.

Additionally, boaters are reminded of the current maritime restrictions that prohibit recreational use. The Public Health (COVID-19 Emergency Powers) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 only permits the use of boats for recreational purposes up to 6:00p.m. A maximum gathering of 10 persons is permitted.

Rounding out the public safety briefing, I’d like to share some crime prevention tips, as this is the time of the year when we see an increase in residential break-ins.

  • Residents are encouraged to always lock their doors and windows when leaving home, even for a few minutes. If leaving home for an extended period of time, ask a neighbour or family member to watch the house. Displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through windows or doors.
  • Be aware that criminals sometimes pose as couriers or persons soliciting donations for charitable causes. Always ask for identification and ask how the donated funds will be used. If you’re not satisfied, do not donate. Only donate to recognised charitable organisations.
  • When out shopping, avoid carrying large amounts of cash, and where possible pay for purchases by cheque, credit or debit card.
  • Keep car doors locked and windows closed when you are away from the vehicle. And don’t leave purchases in the car seat, instead lock them in the trunk.
  • Further crime prevention advice can be found on Bermuda Police Service website at bermudapolice.bm.

In my statement on December 17, 2020, I communicated safety tips from the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service. As we are now nearer to Christmas, I think the tips are worth re-stating.

As a reminder:

  • Test your smoke alarms.
  • Water live Christmas trees on a regular basis.
  • Place Christmas trees away from sources of heat.
  • Keep lit candles away from decorations and other materials that can burn, and blow them out before leaving the room, home or going to bed.
  • Do not burn Christmas tree branches or wrapping paper in fireplaces.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets; utilize surge protectors.

Finally, I will end with an update from the Customs Department.

The 2020 holiday season has been an extraordinarily busy time for Customs, with residents importing courier packages from abroad in record numbers.

This is in part due to the reduction in overseas travel by residents.

We understand the public’s eagerness to have their packages cleared as swiftly and as efficiently as possible.

However Customs must also carefully balance their approach to prevent the cross border movement of contraband such as firearms, illicit drugs and criminal proceeds.

But in light of the increase of imported packages, Customs has modified their operational measures:

To that end Customs has:

  • Maintained communication with all courier services to troubleshoot critical issues and enact solutions where needed.
  • Maintained peak staffing levels by transferring staff from other areas of the Department to assist in Courier operations.
  • Used non-intrusive inspection technology, such as x-ray and drug detector dogs to assist in the examination of arriving packages and thereby reducing the time spent on physical inspections.
  • Taken steps to expedite the clearance of sensitive materials and emergency medical shipments.
  • Relaxed the requirement for non-commercial importers to register for a Customs Automated Processing System (CAPS) ID Number. The deadline for registration has been pushed back to 31st January 2021.
  • And lastly Customs has allowed Courier Services to use the temporary CAPS number “999999” for declaring personal goods.

Again, we understand the public’s desire in seeking to clear their imported goods and packages as quickly as possible.

But our Customs Officers are doing their level best to assist where they can and within reason.

It’s hoped that the public can appreciate our need to balance our clearance protocols and our need to ensure the national security of our borders.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Bermuda residents and visitors a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Healthy New Year!

Thank you.

Thank you Minister Ming. On Friday you will not only celebrate Christmas but also your Birthday. Wishing you a Happy Birthday on Friday when it comes.

Since reopening our economy and inviting visitors, Bermudians and visitors have fought the coronavirus by wearing masks, practising social distancing, and washing hands frequently.

The Government has managed the pandemic by deploying Public Health Officers at the airport, implementing science-driven protocols and measures to reduce behaviours that spread the coronavirus, and doing all we can to test, test, and test even more.

Yesterday, the US’s Centre for Disease Control issued a travel warning for Bermuda and deemed the level of cases we have as “very high”. We were deemed so because the CDC has a standard where ‘very high’ equals having more than ‘100 cases in 28 days’ and our recent outbreak met the threshold.

While CDC will issue advisories, I must reiterate the statistics given by the Minister of Health, the seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is less than 1 and Bermuda’s current country status is “Clusters of Cases”. Given that the rate of infection is dropping, we can expect the number of active cases to also decrease, and the number of recoveries will continue to rise; while these are the expectations, our behaviour is the single biggest influence on the data.

We have a track record of robust testing and contract-tracing. We are still one of the safest places to live and visit, since the pandemic’s start.

To be clear, I do not believe that this rating accurately reflects our island’s current health and safety and that visitors are at high risk of catching the coronavirus. I am confident that, as our cases continue to fall, the CDC will review this rating and make the appropriate adjustments in the future.

Bermudians will be aware that given the number of confirmed cases since the beginning of December, there has also been a substantial increase in the number of persons being tested. In fact, between 3rd December and yesterday, we have conducted and analysed 22,196 tests! You may recall that the government committed to carrying out 1,000 tests per day; our dedicated officers are now averaging over 1,230 tests per day. Well done to them.

Bermuda has the highest per-capita testing rate in the entire world. And it is a reason why we have been able to capture this outbreak, remain at clusters of cases, and we are now beginning to see that the number of positive tests are less.

As the rise in testing has created a greater need for officers to contact trace than at any time previously, the Ministry of Health brought on more officers to communicate with those who were exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. The results show that residents are the vast majority of confirmed cases and not visitors to our island.

If we are in gatherings and we don’t wear a mask, maintain physical distance or observe appropriate hand hygiene, we are more likely to get the virus from a friend, neighbour, relative or coworker than we are from a visitor to Bermuda.

Accordingly, I’d like to take this time to applaud our tireless frontline officers because contact tracing requires empathy and sensitivity; and the news can be frightening for those who receive the calls. The Government sincerely thanks you for your hard work and professionalism.

The Cabinet Committee on the Coronavirus met yesterday to discuss possible changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations that will be in place for the next two weeks. There were a number of requests for changes to make exceptions over the holiday and possible curfew relaxations for New Year’s Eve. There was also a discussion regarding possible enhanced restrictions in light of the new variant of the Coronavirus which, though in the UK is also in many countries around the world.

Following our discussions and after consideration the decision was for there to be no relaxation of restrictions for any days, as we are still in a critical state and the most important thing for the country is to curtail this current outbreak and bring it to an end. The Ministry of Youth, Culture and sport is working with our Gombeys who have agreed to not perform on Boxing Day, to see if there can be safe performances on New Year’s Day. The Deputy Premier will be able to provide more information on that at next week’s press conference.

The only minor change in the regulations that were agreed was for licensed hotels to be able to serve their guests in their facilities after 10 pm. This is only applicable to registered hotel guests, as the current rules require all hotel activity except room service to cease at 10 pm, and the curfew will remain in effect. This change will take effect tomorrow and run through this period of extension.

The Minister of Health has detailed the additional precautions being taken in regards to travellers from the United Kingdom. It is important to note that the Government makes all decisions based upon science.

In today’s media environment it is easy to overreact, and though we have been successful by implementing proactive measures it is important that we remain balanced in our approach and our responses are appropriate and proportionate. Our tests are able to detect someone who may be positive with the new variance, and unlike other countries that have implemented restrictions – every person who enters Bermuda is tested – and that provides an added layer of protection for us.

I also want to remind residents that the unemployment benefits are available for verified employees of bars, nightclubs and members clubs who have had to close due to current COVID-19 restrictions. Assistance is also available for those who have been required to quarantine by the Ministry of Health and are unable to work from home.

The total benefit for these persons will be $500 per week for the period that these restrictions are in place. The initial benefit of two weeks or $1,000 was paid last week to individuals who have complete application submissions, including verification. Additional payments were made this week and those that have been approved will also receive a payment for the next two weeks as the restrictions have been extended.

We encourage all eligible employees and employers to take the time to properly follow the process to ensure that payments are made on a timely basis. The link to the application form can be found on the top red banner on the Government Website gov.bm.

In addition to support to employers, the BEDC will be providing funding to assist businesses impacted by the new restrictions. The one-time grant relief is a needs-based funding product that will be available specifically for approved bars, nightclubs, members clubs and restaurants as of December 8th, 2020. The relief will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Businesses must be registered with BEDC to apply.

Businesses that are impacted can go online to www.bedc.bm to apply for the emergency grants. Funds will be provided to cover immediate, monthly overhead expenses, excluding salaries which are being met by the Government’s Unemployment Benefit. Approved grants will only be provided for the following overhead expenses: business location rent, utilities, social insurance, and health insurance premiums.

We must continue to do everything we can to contain and manage the virus on our shores. In addition to the measures that we have taken since the winter, we are now using technology to help us.

The WeHealth Bermuda app was launched on December 11, since then almost 17,000 people have downloaded it. To those people, I say thank you. The app is designed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 by notifying app users of potential exposure. It is one of the most sophisticated apps available anywhere in the world for helping to control and minimize the spread of COVID-19. When smartphones that have WeHealth Bermuda installed are near each other, the app uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine how close together the devices were, and for how long.

So far 11 people have been confirmed positive who have been using the app. They have been given a random code to put into the app. This means that they have been able to notify people who they were in close proximity for long enough to possibly have transmitted the virus. Due to the private nature of the app, we cannot state how many notifications were sent by these persons who entered the code, as the Government does not have access to that information due to the privacy features which are built into the way this application functions. However, it is good news to note that people are being assisted because of the use of this app. I strongly encourage everyone to download this app. You can learn more about the app by visiting www.gov.bm/wehealth or email CovidApps@Gov.bm.

I am aware that as the number of positive results began to rise, people’s anxiety also increased. I am also aware that the deluge of false and uncorroborated information can create additional anxiety among people, which is why I urge people to only follow official notifications and sources. If you get information that you aren’t sure about – do not forward the information – as they could very likely be false. If you want more details from the Government of Bermuda, visit coronavirus.gov.bm. The information is there and updated regularly.

The government WhatsApp service continues to provide information to the public, and I encourage everyone, if you have not yet signed up for the government’s WhatsApp service, please add the phone number, 504-6045, to your contacts and send us a message, a simple message and said ‘hi’, and you will receive updates from the government.

You can also receive notifications through the Government of Bermuda’s Tree Frog app, which can be downloaded from your app store.

To provide support, the Emotional Well-being Hotline is there to assist people with their emotional well-being as they deal with the pandemic’s effects. You will have access to qualified, experienced mental health practitioners to talk to if you’re feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or stressed.

If you need someone to talk with, help is available. The Emotional Wellbeing Hotline is 543-1111. The line is open from now until January 30, 2021, from Monday to Saturday, 5pm to 9pm.

People are encouraged to call the Emotional wellness line. Support is free to everyone who calls, as funding has been made available through the Bermuda Foundation with support from the Health Innovation Fund.

Certainly also affecting our emotional well-being is the fact that we have had to implement a curfew during the period we traditionally spend time, and catch up with family and loved ones, making being alone, or being quarantined even more difficult to bear.

Regrettably, as we have to ask that people do not mix households during Christmas, as we have to curtail Gombeys, and restrict the size of gatherings. These actions are necessary, and though they are tough, it is important that we keep Bermuda safe.

However, leaving aside the ’True Reason for the Season’, I would say that in some regards this Christmas may be more Bermudian than those in the recent past. In the past Bermudian Christmases were wholly about family, food, warmth, and love. But lately, we have gotten lost in iPhones, iPods, and iWants. In 2020, if we cannot buy, maybe we can share; when we cannot visit, maybe we can call; and if we cannot travel, perhaps we can Zoom in our living rooms.

There are Government and Helping Agencies, Churches, and individuals who are skilled and trained in supporting people during tough periods. Utilise their services if you need to, and materially support them if you do not. I want to thank the many organisations who have been working for the last nine months to ensure that we provide support for those in our community who have been affected by the economic impact of this pandemic. Those who provide meals, financial assistance, and support for those who are challenged to make ends meet.

Our corporate community, political community, religious community, and our community organisations have all come together in so many ways to support those in need. It makes me incredibly proud to witness us as a country working together to provide this support.

I know that this has been a difficult and challenging year. We have all had to do things differently. But, we can look back on this year, thankful for everything we have accomplished.  I am thankful for us coming together as a country to work in a unified fashion to tackle this virus.

Christmas in Bermuda is about sharing meals and spending time with your family and friends. The safest way to celebrate during this holiday season would be with your immediate household practising safe distancing, in a Christmas Bubble.

Please be safe and please remember to protect the vulnerable and our senior citizens. We must continue to shield our elders and the vulnerable, and continue to treat all persons as if they may be asymptomatic carriers of this virus.

In closing, Bermuda I have no doubt that we will get through this latest outbreak and we will be able to a sense of normalcy. Let’s take this time and this holiday to reconnect with family and relax after what has unquestionably been an incredibly stressful year.

From my family to yours, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and on behalf of the Government of Bermuda, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. May God bless you and your family. May your holidays be safe, peaceful and filled with joy.