Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update February 2 2021

COVID-19 Update for 2 February 2021

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Good evening Bermuda.

I begin my remarks tonight by sending my sincere condolences to the family and friends of former Senator and Junior Minister, Laverne Furbert, who sadly passed away this weekend.

She was fearless in her convictions and unwavering in her support of Bermuda’s workers, social justice, and equality in our society. Ms. Furbert will be fondly remembered for her strength, dedication, and vibrant spirit.

Following consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, the Government will designate her funeral a recognition funeral which means that an official condolence book will be prepared, and assistance will be lent to the family for funeral arrangements by the Government’s Protocol Office and also support from the Department of Communications.

Tonight, I’m joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson who will provide an update on the vaccination programme, including the number of residents vaccinated, the number of persons who are registered and the forward plans regarding vaccines and other matters related to her ministry that are important, that persons, pay attention to.

I will be providing an update on the changes to the current measures which measures will remain in place, and I will also touch briefly on the expansion of the vaccination programme and answering some questions which will come in online from a number of persons regarding rule changes in the future and what can we plan and expect.

First we’ll hear from the Minister of Health.

Good afternoon.

There were 306 test results received by the Ministry of Health since the last update, and none were positive for COVID-19.

Additionally, since the last update, one case has recovered.

There are currently 11 active cases, of which;

  • Seven are under public health monitoring
  • Four are in hospital with none in critical care

Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 692 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 669 persons have recovered, and 12 persons have sadly succumbed to COVID-19.

The mean age of all confirmed positive cases is 43 years (median: 40 years), and the ages range from less than one year to greater than 100 years.

The mean age of all currently active cases is 55 years (median: 50 years), and the ages range from less than 30 years (age group: 20-29 years) to greater than 80 years (age group: 80-100 years).

To protect privacy and confidentiality, age information will not be provided on the hospitalized cases.

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:

  • 200 are Imported
  • 489 are classified as local transmission of which:
  • 399 are local transmission with known contact/source and
  • 90 are local transmission with an unknown contact/source
  • Three are under investigation

As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.  Today’s update has 2 cases moving from under investigation to local transmission with unknown contact/source.

Of the more than 160,000 test results reported, the mean age of all persons tested is 43 years (median:  42 years), and the ages range from less than one year to greater than 100 years.

The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1 (0.39) and Bermuda’s current country status is “Sporadic Cases”

I would now like to provide an update on the COVID-19 vaccination programme…

We have completed the third full week of vaccinations, and the first full week of vaccinations using two Vaccination Centres. For the period through to 30 January 2021, Bermuda has vaccinated a total of 4897 persons – representing an additional 1965 persons – and the breakdown is as follows:

  • a total of 2123 or 43% males and 2774 or 57% females
  • with 1039 or 21% persons who are under 50,
  • 1108 or 23% persons between 50 and 64,
  • 1741 or 35% between 65 and 79, and
  • 1009 or 21% persons who are over 80 years old.

However, by including yesterday’s number we have well exceeded 5000 vaccinations, including more than 200 persons who are now fully immunized.

We would note data is generally provided by Epi week and any data provided within 1-2 days of vaccination is considered preliminary.

Of the vaccine sites, and based on the Epi week ending 30 January,

  • the Vaccination Centre at the Police Recreation Club administered 3084 or 63% of vaccinations,
  • 182 or 4% were administered at rest homes,
  • 1573 or 32% were administered by the Bermuda Hospitals Board; and
  • 58 or 1% were administered at Corrections.

Assessed against our vaccination targets, the Ministry can report that of the first groups in Phase 1A, we have vaccinated

  • 1009 persons or 32% of those aged 80 years or older,
  • 326 persons or 44% of those in rest homes and long term care facilities,
  • 676 or 28% of health care workers, and,
  • 960 or 41% of essential service workers.

Whilst we are pleased with the numbers of persons vaccinated thus far, we must ensure that all persons in the critical groups that are at risk are safely vaccinated. If you know anyone in any of our high-risk target groups who has not registered their interest in getting the vaccine, please encourage or help them to register online at: forms.gov.bm/covidvaccine.

The second batch of 19,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived last Friday, after being delayed by one day due to the inclement weather we experienced.

The arrival of these additional doses means that we can now start moving towards Phase 2 of the National Allocation Strategy. While we continue to ask those in Priority Group 1(A) or 1(B) to register their interest and be vaccinated, we are also asking those residents in Phase 2, to register their interest online. Phase 2 is people 50 years and older, as well as vulnerable people (those with heart disease, chronic kidney or liver disease, and diabetes, for example), essential travellers and residents with disabilities.

I must repeat – registering your interest does not guarantee you an appointment at this time. When you submit your registration form, you will receive an auto-generated submission receipt. Your submission will be filed, and you will be contacted as appointments are scheduled. Please remember that appointments are based on a medical risk assessment that, in turn, is based on age and clinical vulnerability, and this is carried out manually by the medical team. Every submission will be replied to, and there is no need for you to re-submit.

With regard to the numbers of persons who have registered interest… To the week ending January 30, 13,227 persons have registered their interest in getting vaccinated. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 2261 Black
  • 6717 White
  • 1187 Mixed or Other
  • 3062 Not Specified or Prefer not to say

It is important to note that our data confirms that trends of black registration are climbing.

The initial need to prioritize the first shipment of doses is under constant review, especially as we have now received an additional vaccine shipment. Our overarching goal is access to the vaccines by every resident, and we will constantly be adjusting to assure and enhance access to vaccines by all.

For those of you who have registered already – thank you. I want to ask those people who are waiting for their appointment to please be patient as the ministry continues to clinically assess each registration.

While you wait, though, please read the COVID-19 Vaccine Information and Consent Form online at gov.bm/vaccines. This document contains important information about the vaccine, and it will make the process at the Vaccination Centre quicker if you read it before you get there.

As we continue to receive more doses of the vaccine and transition through the phases, there may be changes to the existing protocols, and these changes will be widely communicated to the public as they become effective.

One such change is that we now require residents to bring a Bermuda Drivers License or proof of residence when you come to your vaccination appointment. A second change is that all those arriving by car to the Police Club must check in first at the Clyde Best Centre. Please do not drive straight up to the Police Club. What has not changed is that vaccinations at both vaccination centres are administered by appointment only.

The Ministry of Health continues its work reviewing and assessing potentially suitable locations to serve as additional vaccine centres. This is necessary because as of yesterday, February 1st, we are now administering both first doses and second doses. This means we must increase our capacity in order to reach our goal of vaccinating approximately one third of the population by 31 March.

I would ask all residents who are scheduled to receive their second dose – please do not miss your appointment! This is critically important for two reasons:

First – as the vaccine has strict quality and storage standards, the Ministry prepares the doses daily based on the scheduled appointments for the day. As such, we must closely monitor the doses and make sure that all doses prepared are actually administered. Our mandate is to ensure we do not waste a single dose, so please attend your appointment as scheduled.

Second – the two-dose regimen, as recommended byPfizer, is proven to be dramatically more effective. While you get some immunity – approximately 52% – from the first injection, the second dose boosts the immunity to 95% effectiveness.

If you do have to change your appointment, we ask that you call the Vaccination Hotline at 444 2498 (option #2) or email vaccine@gov.bm as soon as you can so that we can re-schedule your appointment.

Wearing masks, physical distancing, good hand hygiene and downloading the WeHealth Bermuda app will help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough.

The vaccine will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. If you do get COVID-19, you are likely to experience milder symptoms and become less ill, as your body is better able to fight off the virus.

We understand that some people may be hesitant, but we are confident that as you do your own research through trusted sources, you will be able to make an informed choice. As the Premier has said before, the Government is committed to ensuring that all residents have access to accurate and up-to-date information. Please visit www.gov.bm/vaccine to learn how the vaccine works, find out about its safety, review the benefits, and more.

We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to use every tool at our disposal to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the vaccine is without a doubt the most valuable and effective tool we have.

Also, the Ministry acknowledges that there are several persons in our target groups Phase 1A and 1B who mistakenly provided the wrong phone number when registering, thus preventing the Hotline team from contacting them to make an appointment. If you are in one of these first two groups, particularly if you are more than 80 years old, please contact the Vaccine Hotline at 444-2489 (option #2) to make sure you get vaccinated.

With respect to the COVID-19 testing generally…

Residents needing outbound tests must book themselves in for outbound travel testing via one of the community sites – Pennos Wharf, Bull’s Head or Star of India. Do not go to Perot Post Office for this. You can book through: gov.bm/coronavirus-get-tested. There will be no walk-ins.

We recommend you book two days before the date you plan to leave Bermuda. This meets the 72-hour rule of the US, UK and, when flights resume, Canada, and gives MDL lab more leeway to process results in time for your departure.

As the half-term school break approaches, the Ministry of Health advises against non-essential travel off the island for all Bermuda residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if travel is absolutely necessary, the Ministry of Health has developed guidance for the Safe Return to School and Day Care after Travel. These guidance requirements are the minimum recommended for schools and day cares and shall be used to implement policies for teachers, staff, children and parents in school and day care settings. You can find this guidance at gov.bm/coronavirus-schools.

In closing, I also have an update regarding saliva testing…

The World Health Organization currently does not recommend the use of saliva as the sole specimen type for routine clinical diagnostics. However, saliva may be used in specific cases where collecting nasopharyngeal swabs can be problematic such as mass screening or, especially, when elderly persons with dementia or young children may be involved. As such, Bermuda has implemented saliva screening programme in which any person testing as a “presumed positive” on saliva must also have a nasopharyngeal sample tested for diagnostic confirmation.

Saliva screening of select populations began on 28 September 2020. These populations include: long term care facility staff and residents; BHB staff and patients; select essential service workers; other vulnerable populations; and, other select groups, such as hospitality workers.

As of 30 January 2021, results have been received for 4467 saliva screenings, of which two (0.04%) have been presumed positive. These numbers have not been previously reported for the afore-mentioned reasons – they are screening rather than confirmatory tests. We intend to find a way to report these stats so that we give recognition for the screening work that is being performed locally and to maintain public confidence that we remain vigilant for outbreaks in general.  Of the two presumed positives, one (1) was confirmed as positive by nasopharyngeal swab. The mean age of all persons screened is 59 years (median:  59 years), and the ages range from less than ten years to greater than 100 years.

Finally, until we achieve herd immunity, we encourage you to get tested to know your status, register to get vaccinated and never forget to avoid the 3Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister for that very comprehensive report and updates and it’s amazing to know that with the vaccinations that took place yesterday, and certainly the work that’s taking place today that we have now, administered well over 5,000 doses and certainly there would be 5,000 persons who would have gotten a first jab of the vaccine. So I am very grateful for the work that is certainly taking place.

On behalf of the people of Bermuda, I want to thank you and your team for all of the continued hard work, energy and effort that has been going on for so long. The health workers of this country are our heroes and whether it’s outbreaks whether it’s calm times whatever time it is they have been working at this day and night for the last 12 months and we owe them our gratitude.

Earlier today, the Cabinet met to discuss the measures in place during the Public Health Emergency related to the coronavirus. In line with recommendations for the Ministry of Health, and with the support of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee, which did meet yesterday. Earlier today, the Cabinet agreed to the following changes:

The first change is that indoor funeral attendance can increase from 20% to 25% of the maximum capacity or the facility in which it is held.

Outdoor funeral attendance can increase from 25 persons to 50 persons.

Table size within restaurants, bars and nightclubs can increase from a maximum of six persons to a maximum of ten persons.

The Government is also changing it advice regarding working from home.  Before working from home was strongly recommended. We are now changing that and we encourage remote working, where possible.

Measures that are not changing:

The current curfew will remain in place from 12 midnight until 5am.  This decision was taken with advice from Health, the curfew has been effective in reducing social mixing.

I know that many want to end curfew and I would like to be able to do so as well. But at this time, the Health advice is that it continue to remain in place. And we know that it is important that Health advice is adhered to.

Group gatherings that are private or public setting outside of an outdoor funeral will remain at a maximum of 25 people. This has not been increased, and again, will remain at 25, persons.

The changes will come into effect on Thursday February 4 at 6am.

As per normal these measures will be reviewed by the Cabinet on a regular basis. The next update is expected in two weeks.

The government understands that many may have been hoping – and my social media is without question telling me that – that all measures, including the curfew would have been relaxed completely, and therefore may be disappointed, that for now, it remains in place.

It is essential that we are cautious and calculated as to when we relax these measures. It is important to remember that COVID-19 is still a threat. As we see it, to continuing to disrupt life around the world for persons who are saying that the curfew should end because our active cases are so low. Before our last outbreak, our active cases were low too and it is essential that we continue to confirm that there is not a risk as it will only take one super spreader event, just as we had before, to put us back into the same situation where we were.

So we are going to continue to work through this process, and do not let the numbers fool you, as you may be lulled into a false sense of security and we’ve learned from our lessons, and we’re not going to repeat those mistakes.

Please adhere to the measures in place. Get tested, and if eligible register for the vaccine and ensure to get those shots to be fully protected. Remember, testing is free for residents. If you are going to host an event at your place, which is not advised, you should consider asking your friends to get tested.

The last thing that you want is to be stuck in quarantine, or worse contract the virus and pass it on to your family. There is testing capacity, here in Bermuda, which has not been reduced as some has suggested, and it is important that we take advantage of that testing capacity.

Yesterday the Minister of Health, the Opposition Leader, Government Science Advisor Dr. Carika Weldon and I were fortunate to receive our second vaccination shots.

I am doing fine. I think the nurses and staff the Police Recreation Club Vaccination Centre for making it an efficient process and ensuring that everyone who attends is seen to professionally. I also want to thank the Royal Bermuda Regiment for their support of the Vaccination Centre’s operations and their ongoing service throughout the pandemic.

As the minister mentioned Bermuda has now received its second delivery of vaccines, with an additional 19,500 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine arriving from the United Kingdom on Friday, January 29.

This second batch will allow us to vaccinate an additional 9,750 persons. I should say, at least another 9,750 persons. As a country, our goal remains to vaccinate 19,000 residents or 36% of the eligible population by the end of March.

I’m grateful to the individuals, as the Minister of Health mentioned, over 13,000 of them that have registered their interest so far. And I am pleased to see the number of Black residents that have registered steadily increasing.

If you’re watching on CITV, there should be a graph on the screen. The graph shows the percentage of Black residents registered out of total in the day who choose to identify their race. The percentage of residents identifying as Black is increasing with spikes specifically recorded on January 21 and January 27.

As more information on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine is provided, I strongly encourage all residents to read this information for themselves. I also encourage you to speak with those who, you know, have already been vaccinated to ask them about their experience. Yes, your arm does hurt. That is normal for any shot or any vaccination, of which you may take. The more we share credible and factual information, the more we can combat vaccine hesitancy and move forward to vaccine acceptance.

Many have asked how will taking the vaccine change your day to day life. At this moment, the one thing that we know for sure is that the vaccine is 95% effective in ensuring that you do not contract the coronavirus.

However, at this time, after you received the vaccine, you should continue protecting yourself. Wear your mask, practice physical distancing, and make sure you continue to practice appropriate hand hygiene and download the WeHealth Bermuda app.

This week I will meet with the Minister of Health, the Minister of Transport and the Bermuda Tourism Authority to begin working on formulating a long term tourism and travel strategy for you. I say that as we might have to change our approach given the changing circumstances in the world.

The government will also discuss implementing a quarantine for all travelers who are arriving, who are not vaccinated. Right now this only applies to persons arriving from the United Kingdom, but we should address our strategy as conditions change in the world.

Further, the government is working on rule changes for those who have received a second dose of the vaccine, and at our press conference on February 16, which is in two weeks, we will be able to release, what those changes will be.

This is two weeks after the second doses were able to be administered here. And at that time, we will have the first resident who will have the full protection against the virus that the vaccine can offer. As the Minister stated soon we will be moving to phase two of the vaccination programme. Before that I strongly encourage all eligible persons to register.

Public Service vehicle licensed drivers like taxi and bus drivers are eligible to receive the vaccine, so please make sure you register. I’ve heard some complaints from taxi drivers who may be picking up our tourists at the airport, etc. Please go ahead and register and get yourself vaccinated.

The Government will increase the number of vaccination centres. A third vaccination centre would allow for more persons to receive the vaccine daily and help us to increase the number vaccinated. As the Minister of Health said our new target will be moved up to 800 per day. The details of the third vaccination centre will be announced before the end of the week, but before then, I would like to thank the team at the Bermuda College for working with the Government in this initiative.

Moving to other matters. Yesterday, the Minister of Finance the Hon. Curtis Dickinson announced that the government had been reimbursed the approximately $11 million loan that was paid to the 700 employees of the Fairmont Southampton by the owners Gencom.

The payment from the Government to the workers in October 2020 was necessary, as there was no guarantee from the owners, when they would be able to make the payment themselves. This Government is committed to ensuring that workers are respected and can live their everyday lives with dignity, especially during these difficult times.

The employees of Southampton Princess, were not given a handout, but rightly paid what they were owed. Our intervention was an important demonstration that people will always be given priority over profits by the Government of Bermuda.

I must however say this. It is noticeable that we have had silence from the usual commentators or the Opposition, who criticized this arrangement that was made by the Minister of Finance. It is okay. You can tell the Minister of Finance, “Job well done”, and that you may have been wrong.

Bermuda is fortunate to have a Minister of Finance of the calibre of Curtis Dickinson, and I want to congratulate him publicly for his work in this because I know that it has been incredibly tiring but he has made the Government proud.

As I said last week we must have confidence in ourselves to work together and to solve the problems together. And in this case, in this instance, the Minister of Finance has done that. And Minister of Finance, I know that Aunt Laverne would be very proud.

I would also like to thank Gencom for keeping their word. Now, it is on to the next phase of the development, and we’re going to be working and engaging with GenCom on that, to make sure that we can advance the redevelopment of that property, so that we can have it open, as soon as possible.

Last week, Bermuda endured severe weather with storm force winds that led to power loss for many. Thanks to the collective efforts of everyone involved, we weathered the storm, with few disruptions to services.

I think the Minister of National Security the Hon. Renee Ming, Dr. Mark Guishard of the Bermuda Weather Service, and all the EMO agencies for their planning and leadership that helped us prepare for the weather event. Unfortunately we’ve had some more inclement weather last night into this morning but thankfully, not as severe.

In closing, I am proud of how as a people, we have worked together to get where we are. We can enjoy a sense of normality the majority of the world cannot enjoy at this time. Though, we were able to announce positive changes to some measures tonight, this is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Let us continue to be consistent in the actions that have helped us make progress in these last few months, and let us work together to make further progress. We all need to do our part. Again, I beg you, there is testing capacity available. Please get tested and if you’re eligible, please register for the vaccination.

Before I take questions, I will end with my usual comments that we know that many in our community may require extra emotional support. If you need someone to talk to, please call the emotional wellbeing hotline.

The phone number is 543 1111. Again 543 1111. It is available now if you wish the call is open Monday to Saturday, 5pm to 9pm. If you are not feeling yourself, feeling isolated, or feeling anxious, please call, as there is help available.

As a reminder, to get accurate, reliable and timely information please sign up for the Government’s WhatsApp service. They will also be able to notify you if our press conference is running late. Sometimes it does, as we had a long Cabinet meeting today.

Add the phone number 504 6045 to your contacts and send us a simple message saying hi. That number again is 504 6045, and you will receive updates from the Government of Bermuda.

Additionally, you can get Government updates by downloading the Treefrog app. IT is available at the Apple store, or in Google Play, in the search bar just type Treefrog Bermuda, and download that free app today.

And finally, if you have not done so, and you are planning on going out to be at a restaurant or somewhere else, please ensure that you download the WeHealth Bermuda app, and follow the precautions that are in place.

Before I take questions to the media, there were two other adjustments which were not inside of my speech in regards to our protocols

The time curfew for the water has been pushed back two hours from 6pm until 8pm, and also there is now limited visiting that is going to be allowed at long-term care facilities. That is only going to be for outdoor visits only, and those are two additional changes, which were approved by the Cabinet today.

With that, I’m happy to take any questions that members of the media may have on behalf of the people of Bermuda.