Good evening Bermuda.
For more than a year now we have endured tests on our resilience, the likes of which we have not seen in a century. We have all lived through a time of unparalleled challenges, frustrations, and restrictions on our everyday lives that we could never have dreamed of. Throughout it all we have been resilient, and we have been united.
I recognise that even the most resilient of persons can grow weary when constantly tested. It is clear throughout the world and here on our own island, that persons are eager to see the end of lockdowns, the end of restrictions and a return to normality. Unfortunately for many countries this is simply not possible due to the continuing presence of the coronavirus, and the spread of new highly transmissible variants.
Just yesterday the U.K government announced a four week delay to the end of their restrictions. Singapore remains in a phased and cautious reopening. Canada continues to maintain strict border and local restrictions, and in Melbourne, Australia, persons are not allowed to have visitors in their home.
However, here in Bermuda, our progress of moving beyond the pandemic is as evident as ever. Tonight, it will be announced that all local restrictions, with the exception of two rules regarding mask-wearing in indoor public places and restrictions on large groups, will come to an end on Sunday, June 20 at 5am. The Minister of Health will explain in more detail which regulations will remain.
In short, you can sit more than ten to a table in a restaurant, you can stay out past midnight, and there will not be any restrictions on activities on land and on the water. And, in most circumstances, you will not require a mask outdoors any more.
It is important for everyone to note that we are not claiming an end to the pandemic. The Government is able to confidently end restrictions due our success in reducing local transmission, increasing vaccinations, and by implementing strict controls at our borders to protect our island from dangerous variants. We can open up our island because we will protect our borders.
Tonight I am grateful to be joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Renee Ming, and Government’s Scientific Advisor and Director of the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, Dr. Carika Weldon.
The Minister of Health will provide the country with an update on our latest coronavirus test results, vaccination statistics, revisions to the travellers who will be exempt from mandatory supervised quarantine and outline the changes to regulations.
The Minister of National Security will provide the final details on mandatory supervised quarantine facilities and operations.
And, Dr. Carika Weldon will give a presentation to the country on coronavirus variants, and the work she and her team at MDL are doing to keep Bermuda informed of what we are dealing with.
I am also pleased to be joined tonight by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye and the Chief of Staff of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, Dr. Wesley Miller. They are both here to answer any technical medical questions from the media that are better suited for medical doctors.
First we will hear from the Minister of Health.
Thank you Premier, and good evening everyone.
Let me start by expressing my gratitude to everyone who has worked tremendously hard to keep Bermuda safe during this pandemic. We have made significant progress in controlling the spread of the virus, and we appear to be turning the corner with our positive coronavirus cases continuing to fall.
The Ministry of Health received 1445 test results since the last update, and one (1) was positive for COVID-19. This gives a test positivity rate of 0.1%. The new case is classified as under investigation. It is a resident with no currently identified link to other known cases or history of travel in the past 14 days.
Additionally, since the last update, there were no recoveries and no deaths.
There are currently five (5) active cases, of which;
- 4 are under public health monitoring and;
- One (1) is in the hospital, with none (0) in intensive care.
Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 2499 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 2461 persons have recovered, and sadly, there have been 33 COVID related deaths.
The source of all cases is as follows:
- 308 are Imported
- 2189 are classified as local transmission of which:
- 1682 are Local transmission with known contact/source and
- 507 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- 2 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 “Community Transmission”. Bermuda’s WHO country status could be changed to “Sporadic Cases” on June 21 2021, if our epidemiological situation continues to meet the criteria, i.e. case numbers remain low, and any detected cases are either imported or linked to imported or other known cases. Bermuda’s current PAHO country status is Sporadic Cases.
I will now provide an update on our vaccination programme…
We have completed the twenty-second full week of vaccinations. Since January 11 Bermuda has administered a total of 76,526 vaccinations – a figure that rises to 76,860 if you include vaccinations on Sunday June 13 and Monday June 14 as well!
Of the 76,526 vaccinations given as of June 12:
- 52% are women, and,
- 48% are men.
- 81.6% of all residents over the age of 65 years have had at least one vaccination, and 76.4% are fully immunised.
- To date, 64.0% of the total population has been vaccinated (1 dose), and 55.4% of the total population has been immunised (2 doses).
We have had questions about the percentage of the population that is eligible to be vaccinated. To date, 72% of the eligible population has been vaccinated with one (1) dose, and 62% of the eligible population has been immunised (2 doses). We have confirmation from Government House that 4,680 more Pfizer vaccine doses are arriving next week from the UK, which is excellent! This will allow us to continue to offer vaccinations to as many people as possible. The more people who are immunised, the safer our community becomes, and I am pleased to announce that we can now end most public health restrictions due to our significant progress in controlling the virus as reflected in our updated country status.
However, the following restrictions will remain: a maximum of 100 people for large group gatherings and the wearing masks indoors (particularly when not eating or drinking). Regarding face masks, by now all of us know a face mask is a key preventive measure when it comes to the slowing spread of the coronavirus. We also know that we have not yet conquered this global pandemic. So, mask wearing indoors – the setting most likely to result in transmission – will continue for some time to come. What does this mean for gyms, for example? Gym owners will no longer need to space their equipment. However, when not working out, staff and patrons must wear a mask. To be blunt: we don’t know who is and who isn’t vaccinated, and now is not the time to end our vigilance completely. We have come too far and worked too hard for the success we’ve achieved. The entire Bermuda community deserves relaxations but within this reasonable limit: wear a mask indoors.
We are completing all of the necessary amendments to finalise the Quarantine Order pertaining to mandatory quarantine.
As of June 20 2021, all non-immunised persons travelling to Bermuda are subject to mandatory quarantine. Mandatory quarantine means those hotel and guest house properties that have been designated as such by the Bermuda Government.
There are seven approved quarantine locations:
- Coco Reef Resort
- Grotto Bay Beach Resort & Spa
- Hamilton Princess & Beach Club
- Willowbank Resort
- Coral Beach and Tennis Club
- Rosemont Guest Suites
- Fairmont Southampton
Travellers arriving on Sunday, June 20 or after will need to follow the new travel authorisation process where they will be asked a series of questions to determine the category of traveller they fall into. The new process will be available at: https://www.gov.bm/coronavirus-travellers from tomorrow. The travel authorisation fee will remain the same at $75.
An unimmunised traveller requiring a quarantine hotel must:
- cover the costs for the hotel stay;
- choose from one of the seven participating properties; and
- book their hotel in advance of arrival in Bermuda.
For those people who were already abroad before May 6, the Bermuda Government will pay for the quarantine stay. The details of this will be available to the public later this week.
Exemptions from the quarantine hotel are limited to
- Unaccompanied Minors aged 17 years or younger on the date arriving in Bermuda
- Medically Vulnerable certified by a licensed Physician, Psychologist or local health insurer
- Caregivers of medically vulnerable travellers
These persons will still be required to quarantine and will have checks to ensure they are quarantining at home. Minor children, those under 18, will follow a Traveller’s First 14 Days for Children unless they or their parents are required to quarantine. This will include students returning home from boarding school, for example.
Each non-immunised traveller must have a confirmed (pre-paid) booking at a government-authorised hotel to apply for a Traveller Authorisation. And every immunised traveller must upload proof of their immunisation status to their Traveller Authorisation.
Testing for travellers will expand to include children from the age of two, with the oropharyngeal PCR test being used for young children.
We will continue to do our best to keep Bermuda COVID free as we welcome residents home and visitors to our island and re-open our economy.
The next Close to Home mobile vaccinations will be at Sandy’s Middle School on Thursday, June 17, from 4 – 7 pm.
On Saturday, June 19 at the National Sports Centre from 10 am – 2 pm and next Tuesday, June 22 at the Shelly Bay Marketplace from 10 am – 2 pm. Currently, the Close to Home programme is administering second doses only. If you had your first dose at Sandy’s Secondary Middle School, please remember to get your second jab this Thursday.
If you want a free ride to any Close to Home mobile vaccinations sites, call 533-5903 between 10.00 am and 1.30 pm. Mini-buses are available to take you there and bring you back home.
Since the mobile vaccination programme began on April 27, a total of 3,835 vaccines have been given as of June 13. About 66% of injections were administered to people receiving their first dose.
If you need assistance getting vaccinated or have questions, please contact email@example.com, or call the hotline 444-2498 and select Option #2. The Vaccine Call Centre is available from 8 am – 4 pm, Monday to Friday and Saturdays from 9 am – 3 pm. The Vaccine Call Centre is closed on Sundays.
With the new supply of vaccine due to arrive on island next week, we are asking all people who are interested in being vaccinated to register online at gov.bm, and you will get an appointment. We will begin first doses again later this week.
The Ministry of Health is aware of a fake email error message being circulated regarding COVID-19 vaccination certificates.
If you receive or have received correspondence entitled Vaccine Certificate Error from firstname.lastname@example.org and signed by “The COVID-19 Vaccine Team,” please ignore and delete it. All official emails regarding the COVID-19 vaccine certificates are sent from the Government of Bermuda COVID-19 Response Team at BermudaCovidVaccine@resqwest.com. You can also contact the Vaccine hotline on 444-2498 and select Option #2, or email email@example.com.
In closing, I want to remind the public to have an accurate and comprehensive list of every guest at your events and gatherings, including yard and house parties.
Guest lists should include the full name, email address, phone number and both the date and time of arrival for everyone in attendance. They should also provide table or seating assignment details and departure times, if possible.
This information is necessary to facilitate contact tracing in the event of a connected case of COVID-19.
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 your doctor and make an informed decision about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a wealth of information about the vaccines online at gov.bm.
Stay safe, Bermuda, and don’t forget to avoid the three “Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places and close contact settings.
Thank you Minister.
I echo your words of thanks to all of those involved in our vaccination programme, and most recently our Close to Home mobile vaccination initiative to make vaccines even more accessible to those who want them. Thank you to the Ministry of Health staff, the Department of Communications, the Bermuda Health Council, the King Edward Memorial Hospital staff, the Royal Bermuda Regiment, and all of the doctors, nurses, and volunteers who worked tirelessly to make mobile vaccinations a success.
Thank you to all the businesses, charities and local organisations who have so generously supported our vaccination programme, and our efforts to protect Bermuda through accessibility to the COVID-19 vaccine. It has been wonderful to see all areas of our community from healthcare, to Government workers, and the private sector come together to support one another for the benefit of Bermuda.
The revised exemptions that were outlined by the Minister of Health set out what we believe will meet the legal test required and achieve the overarching aim of protecting Bermuda from the introduction of dangerous variants.
If there is any doubt on the impact variant spread can have on plans to re-open our economy and end restrictions, I refer persons to my earlier comments on the U.K where the end of their restrictions has been delayed for another month due to the spread of the Indian or Delta variant. All that separates Bermuda from the introduction of a variant onto our shores is a nonstop flight from the U.K where case numbers have returned to levels not seen in four months in a matter of weeks. Relaxing our guard at this time could potentially delay the reopening of these Islands for months.
Risk-based policy often defies logic. That simply means it can be difficult to make sense of it all. Sometimes that policy can be the source of a passing comment or a moment of reflection. But where that policy implements a restriction on freedoms we ordinarily enjoy, the risk is clearly great.
There is a clear and growing evidence that immunization significantly reduces the risk of persons transmitting the virus. That means when an unimmunized person leaves the comparative safety of Bermuda, where we have so few active cases and is exposed to variants overseas, that person on their return represents a greater risk to the people of Bermuda than the fellow immunized residents.
I respect the right of people to not be immunized and that is why the government has never sought to make vaccination mandatory. I respect the personal choice of an unimmunized person to risk travelling to a location overseas which may have a prevalence of variants. But the potential consequences of those personal risks taken must be mitigated by the Government’s duty to keep Bermuda safe.
The Government also recognises that there are residents abroad, who through no fault of their own, are not able to get vaccinated. For those persons who left Bermuda before May 6, when mandatory supervised quarantine was announced, and who are not able to be vaccinated in the country they are in, the Government will cover the cost of the supervised quarantine as was mentioned by the Minister of Health.
These persons are not exempt from having to quarantine, but the costs will be fully covered for their stay in a designated facility. We envision this group will consist mainly of our students overseas, but this applies to any person who fits this criteria – so you may be a resident overseas with your child in a football academy, or overseas working in a place where there is no access to the vaccine. As you left the country before the policy was announced, we look forward to welcoming you back and making sure you can safely quarantine before reentering the general population.
Our students coming home, especially from the UK, please be safe, take care of yourselves as the Delta variant is spreading in the United Kingdom.
While we are on the subject of variants, I now invite Dr. Carika Weldon to highlight the work being done by her team at the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory to track variants here in Bermuda.
Good Evening Bermuda,
I am pleased to share with you an update of Bermuda’s current testing results of the recent coronavirus variants.
To recap, my last update in March I informed that Bermuda was able to conduct a rapid variant PCR test that allows for the identification of certain variants within one hour as opposed to weeks via sequencing. This test looks for signature mutations that are specific to variants in circulation. I also shared that the test was a screening test which allows us to identify a normal strain, UK and Brazil or South Africa variants. A further test was needed to determine between Brazil and South African strains.
At that time we tested 365 positive samples between October 6th and March 1st .
The breakdown of the cases was as follows:
- 326 were normal strains which included all from the December 2020 outbreak. We have sequenced some of them and it was a mixture of normal strains that were present.
- 35 were the UK strain, all being imported cases with no evidence of local transmission cases,
- 1 Denmark cluster variant, that is not of any concern, • 1 South African variant • 2 inconclusive
From March 2nd until June 11th, there has been a shift in the ratio of variants we have on island. Out of the 1,292 samples that yielded a variant result, 1,281 (or 99%) are the UK variant. The outbreak lasted just shy of 3 months, with May 26th being the last day this variant has been detected in a new case. In addition to this major strain, there have been 6 normal strains detected; all imported or close contacts of imported cases.
Two have been inconclusive and will be sent for further sequencing. On June 3rd 3 arrival cases from the US were detected as the South African variant. This is not the first time 3 this variant has been detected in the country as Bermuda had an imported case detected on January 13th determined in our first round of rapid variant testing at the end of February. Thankfully there was no further spread at that time.
No Brazil or Indian variants have been detected in Bermuda as of today. Since the first batch of variant PCR tests, there have been additional test 3 targets on the virus so that we can the presence of Indian variant. By using these tests, MDL was able to quickly rule out that the newly imported cases on June 3rd were not the Indian variant. The turnaround time for variant tests is also bit quicker now due the outbreak being over. During the outbreak, MDL would run variant tests every 3-4 days. Now with the lower case numbers, we aim to turn around the results between 3 – 12 hours after detection. This allows health authorities to know very quickly what we are dealing with and how to proceed.
It is also worth noting that variants of concern now have new names. UK is Alpha, South Africa is Beta, Brazil is Gamma & Indian is Delta.
The diagram below compares the 4 transmissibility, disease severity & efficacy against symptomatic infections for all 4 key variants of concern.
Pfizer vaccine efficacy of 2 doses plus 2 weeks against symptomatic infections of key strains has been studied around the world. Based on emerging data Pfizer is able to protect against the alpha (UK) and delta (Indian) variants almost comparable to the normal strains. It does work against the Beta variant (South Africa) however the efficacy drops about 15%. This means that those that are fully immunized may have a higher risk of becoming infected with this variant compared to others. This is why we will continue to test all fully immunized persons on arrival, day 4, day 8 and day 14. We want to make sure that our borders are safe.
Before I close, I would also like to update that MDL has moved, although hopefully you could not tell. We were aiming to move without disruption to daily testing. As of last Friday, we are no longer in St. David’s and are now in our more permanent location in Warwick. I would like to give a shout out to the Bermuda Government Central lab who were so gracious to give us their space, and support that allowed us to perform over a 5 quarter million COVID-19 tests. To both the Food and Water and the Forensics Labs, MDL thanks you so much. Thank you Bermuda for being so supportive and we look forward to continuing to offer you the best service we can and keeping the country safe.
Thank you Dr. Weldon for that presentation, and to outline the variants that have been detected in Bermuda, and thank you for all of the work that you and your team continue to do for the country. We have been fortunate to have you, and your team of young Bermudian scientists who I was able to visit a few days ago at Southside before the move, and we all see that you are there on the frontlines working to make sure that you get these tests completed for us. But of course, the team at MDL is just one part of the equation. And certainly it is all of the staff that work day in and day out at our testing facilities, especially at the Perot Post Office and other testing facilities around the country. Those persons who are working at the hospital, and our private labs, Helix and CNS West have helped Bermuda to maintain consistently one of the best testing regimes in the world. And I want to thank all of you who have been a part of this success.
I certainly hope Dr. Weldon that your team will enjoy its new location in which is one of the projects that were contained in the Government’s Economic Stimulus Programme.
Finally this evening we will hear from the Minister of National Security the Hon. Renee Ming, who will provide an update on matters under her Ministry related to the enforcement of the restrictions and who will also share the final details on how to book the mandatory quarantine facilities, for those persons who will not be exempt from supervised quarantine.
(Statement not available)
Thank you Minister, and thank you to your team at the Ministry who have been working hard to finalise the supervised quarantine operation. It has not been easy work, but on Sunday we will add further protection to our borders to ensure that we can keep our local economy open.
Thank you also for your tireless work in managing the Large Group Exemptions.
With the ending of restrictions, there will undoubtedly be an increase of activity over the upcoming holiday weekend. While we are in an enviable position as a country to open up, we must also remember that the pandemic is not over and we must remain vigilant as we go about our days. Bermuda is fortunate to have tools at our disposal to help us reduce the risk of coronavirus spread, the newest of which is SafeKey.
Those persons who hold a vaccine-based SafeKey will be aware that their SafeKey expires today. You can renew your SafeKey for another month, by going to gov.bm/safekey. There is a link at the top of the page for you to click, and enter your surname and e-mail. You will then be sent a new link via email to renew your SafeKey and vaccination certificate. The renewed SafeKeys will expire on July 15, at which time all SafeKeys will move to a rolling date as originally announced.
SafeKey will continue to be required for large events above the maximum size of 100. And while SafeKey is no longer required for daily activities, anyone can use it for private functions such as a house party. SafeKey’s accessibility and ease of use makes it a helpful tool to have on hand to give everyone peace of mind.
In the two months since I first announced Bermuda’s Plan to Move Beyond the Pandemic, which included supervised quarantine to protect our borders from new variants, social media platforms and even more traditional communications have been overrun with crass and, quite frankly, threatening messages. It is perhaps the tension of the times that has led to an abandonment of our historic ability as Bermudians to disagree without being disagreeable. I fully appreciate the anger and while I may disagree with the manner in which it is expressed, I understand it.
Leadership means being prepared to sacrifice popularity for principle and duty. In this case the principle is one I am sworn to uphold. It is my duty as Premier of this country to do my best to keep the people of Bermuda safe, and it is that duty that I and the Government have placed above all others throughout this pandemic.
It would be easy to yield and give in to the pressure of the very loud voices raised daily in condemnation of our decisions. To yield may achieve temporary quiet and appease some but it would not provide safety for our country. This Government has chosen safety over expediency because true leadership, especially in these times, demands such choices.
When I look at other countries where there are similar choices to be made. Matched with equal levels of frustration and leaders in similar unenviable positions, safety outweighs expediency every time. The ability to operate normally here at home is now squarely dependent on the protections we impose and enforce at our borders. It is that simple.
Is it ideal to impose such restrictions on the free movement of people? Of course not. Is it the Government’s desire to persist in limiting group sizes and the time people must be indoors? Definitely not. I will continue to say that as Premier and as a citizen of this country I do not like that I have to do this. The Cabinet does not like that we have to do this. The Legislators do not like that we have to do this. We do not like the curfew. We do not like restrictions, nor do we enjoy imposing such strict protections at our borders.
But the record of our management of the pandemic over these last 15 months will show that we have not only successfully contained outbreaks when they arose, and protected our healthcare system and our community, but we have done so through a balanced approach which allowed for safe economic activity. Our record will also show that wherever we can safely remove restrictions we do so and in the coming months the exact same approach will be taken.
As we open up our country, we need to restore some focus to our society because moving beyond the pandemic also means moving beyond these temporary disputes and coming together to address how we will lift people up after this economic decline; how we will once again get back in the tourism business and how we will achieve affordable healthcare for all. Those things are priorities now and await us beyond the pandemic too. That work can only receive the attention and effort so desperately needed if we protect Bermuda at the border and provide the space for us to do what is needed for our people.
In order to ensure that moving beyond the pandemic is more than a catchphrase and for it to become reality, there can be no more lockdowns and curfews. We have far bigger things to debate than raft-ups. In the midst of these arguments we have a crisis of affordable housing.
While we forward the latest memes and WhatsApp messages, a single mother is trying to make up her rental arrears so she and her child don’t go homeless, these are the issues that the Government must be committed to addressing.
As I close, and as we look forward to the upcoming holiday weekend and celebrate National Heroes Day, I ask that we remember the heroes of Bermuda’s rich and proud history. I also ask that we keep the heroes of our present in our thoughts.
It is fitting that we are able to end restrictions this weekend, as to be able to do so is due to the hard work and efforts of so many Bermudians who helped push us forward in our battle against the coronavirus. Thanks to these modern day heroes, some who wear uniforms and work on the frontlines, and others who work behind the scenes in their offices until late at night, and so many others we have taken back our island. Whether public officers, or private citizens serving their community we thank you for helping us to continue to move beyond the pandemic.
I wish everyone a happy National Heroes Day in advance.