COVID-19 Update- Premier’s Remarks 2 March 2021
I am thankful to have Dr. Carika Weldon is here to discuss the efforts being done by her team at the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory to map which variants we have seen in Bermuda.
Following the Minister and Dr. Weldon, I will provide you with an update on the COVID-19 regulations agreed today by the Cabinet and other matters.
I am also happy to have the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ayo Oyinloye, who can answer any technical or medical questions from the media as well.
First, we will hear from the Minister of Health….
The Ministry of Health received 333 test results since the last update, and none were positive for COVID-19. Additionally, since the last update, there were two recoveries.
There are currently 17 active cases, of which
- 17 are under public health monitoring
- None are in the hospital.
Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 713 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 684 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 41 years (median: 47 years), and the ages range from less than 20 years (age group: 10-19 years) to greater than 50 years (age group: 50-59 years).
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:
- 210 are imported
- 502 are classified as local transmission of which:
- 410 are local transmission with known contact/source and
- 92 are local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- One is under investigation
As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change.
Of the over 170,000 test results reported, the mean age of all persons tested is 43 years (median: 42 years), and the ages range from less than one year to greater than 100 years.
Additionally, during the week of 21 to 27 February, 660 saliva screening tests were conducted. Therefore, as of 27 February 2021, results have been received for 6464 saliva screenings. The mean age of all persons screened is 56 years (median: 57 years), and the ages range from less than 10 years to greater than 100 years.
The seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is less than one, and Bermuda’s current country status remains “Sporadic Cases”.
I will now provide an update on our vaccine programme, which plays a critical role in Bermuda’s return to normal.
We have completed the seventh full week of vaccinations and the fifth week using two Vaccination Centres operating six days a week. For the seven-week period, from January 11 to February 27, Bermuda has administered a total of 20,705 vaccinations – a figure that rises to 21,387 if you include yesterday’s vaccinations as well! – which is a remarkable accomplishment.
Of the 20,705 vaccinations administered for the period we are reporting on, which ends February 27;
- 11,373 (or 55%) were given to women, and,
- 9,332 (or 45%) were given to men.
Bermuda’s goal of “herd immunity” will be achieved when 70% of the population (64,054) has been immunized. To date, 21% of the population has been vaccinated (with 1 dose) and 11% of the population has been immunized (with 2 doses).
Each week since January 11 has seen an increase in the number of vaccinations administered, with 4314 vaccinations delivered last week. The public has accessed these vaccines as follows:
- the Vaccination Centre at Bermuda College (previously at the Police Recreation Club) administered 12,036 or 58% of vaccinations,
- 7,760 or 37% were administered at the Bermuda Hospitals Board Vaccination Centre,
- 767 or 4% were administered at rest homes and long term care facilities, and
- 141 or 1% were administered at Other Vaccination Sites.
Assessed against Bermuda’s vaccination priority targets:-
In Phase 1A
- 1,703 persons or 55% of those aged 80 years and older have been vaccinated. 441 have had one vaccination, and 1,262 (41%) are fully immunized.
- 381 persons or 51% of residents in rest homes and long term care have been vaccinated. 70 have had one vaccination, and 311 (42%) are fully immunized.
- 1,365 health care workers or 56% have been vaccinated. 221 have had one vaccination, and 1,144 (47%) are fully immunized.
- 1,393 essential workers or 59% have been vaccinated. 403 have had one vaccination, and 990 (42%) are fully immunized.
In Phase 1B
- 4,523 persons or 48% of those aged 65 – 79 years have been vaccinated. 1,590 have had one vaccination, and 2,933 (31%) are fully immunized.
These are excellent results so far, and I would like to thank all those who are getting their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and our community.
Government House has informed the Government that Bermuda will receive another 15,000 doses of the vaccine later this month. This is great for our vaccine programme as we are receiving more and more persons who are registering their interest to be vaccinated.
I would like to remind residents that we are currently in Phase 2 of Bermuda’s COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy.
Phase 2 is for residents who are 50 years or older, have been diagnosed with heart disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, have a disability, are of no fixed abode or essential travelers – persons who must travel for medical purposes or to return to school.
If you fit the criteria for Phase 2, please register for an appointment by completing the registration form at forms.gov.bm/covidvaccine.
Also, we are in the process of making appointments for the remaining persons who are 65 years-old and older who registered online but have not yet been vaccinated. We encourage all those in that group to continue to register as they will be prioritized in the booking system, along with all who are medically vulnerable.
If you are not able to access the registration form online, ask a friend, neighbour or family member to help register you online, or you can call the vaccine hotline on 444 2498 and select option 2.
With regard to the numbers of persons who have registered interest.
For the week ending February 27th, 20,877 persons have registered their interest in getting vaccinated. The breakdown is as follows:
- 5,068 Black
- 9,704 White
- 2,404 Mixed or Other, and,
- 3,701 Prefer not to say or Not Specified.
For those of you who have registered already – thank you, and please encourage your family and friends who may be in the priority groups to register. The COVID-19 vaccination will prevent you from becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus. The more people who are vaccinated, the harder it will be for the virus to spread in our community. Please remember that there are those in our community who cannot get vaccinations because of health issues. Our immunization protects them.
I must also remind people that you cannot get your vaccination if you have travelled and not yet received your 14-day negative test or if you are in quarantine. And you must wear a proper mask or face covering – no neck gaiters please– when you attend a vaccination centre.
As previously announced, there will be changes to the guidance for persons who are immunized. Most immediately, I can inform the public that persons who are immunized are able to travel to Bermuda and, with two negative COVID-19 test results (pre-arrival and on arrival at the airport), may dine indoors, go to work, visit a bar or nightclub, and go to the gym. However, they are still subject to the full testing regime, which includes tests on days 4, 8 and 14.
If the traveller does not have a pre-arrival test, then the two negative test results needed will be on arrival and day 4.
All immunized persons must practice workplace isolation, which means, if you are a teacher, for example, do not eat in the staff room. Keep as much separation between you and others as much as possible until you have completed your day 14 test.
For students in households where adults are immunized and have been travelling, they will be able to continue to attend school. They will not need to be in quarantine at home.
For more information regarding these changes, please check the website at gov.bm/coronavirus.
With respect to Bermuda’s ‘country status’…
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, reduced Bermuda from Level 4 (COVID-19 very high; travellers should avoid all travel to these destinations) to Level 3 (COVID-19 high; travellers should avoid all non-essential travel to these destinations). That was encouraging news but is not quite where we want to be. However, even this will be in jeopardy if we cannot control and eliminate new cases of COVID-19 on our shores.
Recently, Bermuda has gone from 9 active COVID-19 cases, where 8 of the 9 are imported cases, to 17 active cases where 8 are imported, 8 are local transmission, and 1 is under investigation. This happened in just two weeks.
These new cases represent an emerging outbreak, and they appear to be linked to one of the more transmissible variants, most likely the UK variant.
As investigations into this emerging outbreak continue, the number of cases has also increased, and the risk of transmission that increases with large gatherings of persons presents a clear and present danger. With the increase in locally transmitted cases of Covid -19, we felt it prudent to amend the Regulations as it relates to curfews. This will help to minimize the time where people may be socializing together in close proximity to each other and in closed-in spaces. Also, as we know, increased alcohol consumption can lead to poor judgment calls and slips in protective health measures. The Ministry’s contact tracing investigations strongly suggest that it is social mixing or gatherings of people that are most likely to produce local transmissions and positive cases.
Last week I advised members of the public that individuals who attended house parties over the weekend of February 19th, should arrange Covid-19 testing as soon as possible.
As I have stated previously, concerning the issue of “close contacts”, I want to reassure the public that their information will be kept private. It is used only for outbreak investigation. Having said that, I would like to ask persons who are contacted by one of our contact tracers to please be forthcoming with information as it pertains to your close contacts. We need this to be able to trace any potential spread … your cooperation may well save a life.
Outbreaks occur when members of our community choose not to follow public health guidelines and measures – and they are making a deliberate choice. The result is outbreaks of COVID-19 which can have, and have had, a devastating impact on our economy and way of life. The wider community does not deserve to be placed under more strict public health measures because of the actions of a few. Every single one of us has a responsibility to adhere to the public health guidelines as they help stop the spread of disease. They are not difficult: wear a mask, physically distance and avoid the “three Cs” of closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.
Bermuda, we cannot have another spike in positive cases. You will recall that last November there were three events at two venues over one weekend, which resulted in more than 80 people testing positive and more than 550 people being placed in quarantine. Many of those persons who were required to isolate and or quarantine, were financially disadvantaged due to their inability to go to work. We cannot go back to that.
As I said previously, contact tracing is vital to ensure all persons possibly exposed to the coronavirus are tested and, if necessary, quarantined. I urge the public to co-operate with our contact tracing team. Their work is vital in preventing the spread of the virus. Also, knowing your COVID-19 status is important even if we are not dealing with an outbreak. Get tested! And get tested regularly.
I would also like to take this opportunity to remind funeral homes, churches, restaurants, event planners – anyone hosting services and events – that, by law, they may be liable to prosecution pursuant to the Public Health (COVID-19 Emergency Powers) Regulations 2021 as a host of, as well as being a part of, an assembled group that exceeds the gathering size permitted by the Regulations. There is a fine of $6,000 for the first offence and $10,000 and or a prison term of three months for a second or subsequent offence.
As always, Bermuda, please continue to follow the public health measures and guidelines put in place for our collective safety. Continue to wear your mask and practice physical distancing. And get vaccinated when it is your turn.
Thank you Minister…
You and your team at the Ministry of Health have worked extremely hard to increase the pace of vaccinations in Bermuda, while managing the pandemic. With the collective efforts of the Ministry of Health, nurses, doctors, vaccination centre and Public Health staff, and volunteers, Bermuda has remained among the top countries in the world (6th according to ourworldindata.org) for vaccinations administered per capita, with 21,387 total doses administered as of yesterday.
This includes a continued increase in vaccine doses administered week on week, with 22% more doses administered this week than last week, in addition to the 24% increase, which I reported last week. As I have said previously, we are in a marathon and not a sprint. These statistics will show that our efforts are making a difference in getting more eligible persons vaccinated and that we are consistently moving towards our goal.
I want to say before I move on, well done to all those involved, the Minister of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, and everyone else who is a part of this vaccination effort. The volunteers, people who are getting persons to the vaccination sites, those who are checking up, it is an incredible effort, and we should all be very proud of the work we have achieved over the past seven weeks.
Vaccinations are important, but we must also continue to know the threats that face us today as the coronavirus remains a threat to our wellbeing as a society. Now we will hear from Dr. Carika Weldon, who will speak to the work that Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory (MDL) has been undertaking to investigate the coronavirus variants on our shores.
Good Evening Bermuda,
I am pleased to share with you a summary of Bermuda’s current testing of the recent coronavirus variants.
To recap, the last update I delivered in January, I was able to share initial findings from the first batch of viral genome sequencing results conducted by Public Health England (PHE). This included 21 samples from cases between October 27th – November 18th.
Initial analysis of the results showed that 8 different strains were identified, with all being imported from the US, UK and Asia. None of the UK strains were the new UK variant strain that caused the lockdowns in the UK late last year. Both strains identified at that time were both common strains circulating in the UK since March 2020.
Oxford nanopore sequencing will be performed on island once all supplies arrive. In the meantime, we have been able to send 10 samples to CARPHA and will be sending a further batch of 50 samples to PHE next week.
A new rapid variant PCR test has become available that allows for identification of variants within 1 hour, as opposed to a week via sequencing. This test looks for signature mutations that are specific to the variants in circulation right now. Once a variant is identified we will still sequence the sample for confirmation.
The rapid PCR test Bermuda has can detect the following mutations:
- 69/70 amino deletion, found in the UK variant only
- E484K mutation, found in the Brazil and South Africa variants,
- N501Y mutation found in the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants.
- V1176F mutation specifically found in the Brazil variant.
Our screening assay looks at the deletion, 484 and 501 mutations simultaneously and allows us to tell if samples are the normal strains (ones which are not of concern), or the UK, Brazil or South Africa variant.
As of last Wednesday, MDL commenced rapid PCR variant testing of 365 cases from October 6th – March 1st.
We have identified the UK and South Africa variants in Bermuda, but not the Brazil variant.
The breakdown is as follows:
- 326 are normal strains, including all linked to the outbreaks Bermuda experienced at the end of last year. We will sequence all of these to determine which normal strains they are.
- 1 Denmark cluster variant, which is not a variant of concern but does have the similar deletion to the UK strain.
- 35 are the UK strain. The first UK variants arrived on the December 13th BA flight. Up until January 14th all UK variant cases were imported from the UK via BA flights. From January 17th until February 20th UK variant was also imported from the US, via Miami and NYC. There was no evidence of UK variant in any local transmission cases until the month of February.
- 1 South Africa variant imported on January 13th via the Miami.
5. 2 are inconclusive and will be determine via viral genome sequencing.
From all this new emerging data, one thing we can say that we have successfully managed the UK strain for the last 2.5 months and should all be proud that when we follow our public health guidance from the Ministry of Health, it is effective.
I am also immensely proud of all the young Bermudians working at MDL who have learned this new skill in record time and have made this data available in under 1 week. I also want to highlight upcoming biomedical scientist Keizhari Knight who managed this project extremely well.
Moving forward, MDL will routinely check new cases via rapid variant PCR testing and confirm through sequencing to understand how if any further mutations have occurred on island, and aide epidemiological investigations.
As we soldier on with this fight against COVID-19, let us continue to all do our part by following the guidelines that have gotten us all this far.
Thank you Dr. Weldon.
On behalf of the Government and people of Bermuda, I thank you and your team, who have been at the forefront of our battle against the coronavirus. It has been wonderful to see young Bermudian scientists doing such important work for the country. To hear that that important work has now expanded, with our young scientists determining which variants are here on the island is inspiring. I also commend Keizhari Knight and all of the team at MDL for their incredible work; you have made us proud.
There are some who wish to criticize the work of the MDL. But as a leader of the Government, I’m proud of the decision to support this lab. As Dr. Weldon would recognize, and as all of us know, we are not 100% perfect. Recognizing that the vast amount of tests that have been done for the lab, a little bit more than 160,000 since this pandemic has begun, in addition to the excellent work they are now doing regarding identifying variants, sets Bermuda apart and gives us more tools in our arsenal. So I want to thank you and congratulate you on your work and your efforts.
Both the Ministry of Health and the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory team have worked extraordinarily hard to ensure that we have the tools to tackle this pandemic. But from the very start, I have always stated that it only takes one person to set us as a country back. One person to cause harm to our economy. One person who can set off the chain of events that will have more students getting set back on their education by not being able to go back to school. One person who can cause a chain of events that can cause an outbreak that can put persons in the hospital or, unfortunately, lead to more dire consequences, as we have seen recently. Despite our hard work and our progress to date, I am disappointed that we have recently seen a rise in active cases due to what seems to be a single event. This increase is further evidence that COVID-19 is still a threat and can easily spread if persons do not follow the regulations that the Government has implemented to manage the impact of the coronavirus in our country. This includes the protocols in place at our borders and the traveller continuum, which requires persons who are not vaccinated to follow specific guidelines until testing negative on day 14. It is imperative that travellers follow these guidelines until the end to protect themselves and others. We came under immense criticism for requiring travellers to wear wristbands, and the fact that persons would be at an event with these wristbands in contravention of the rules that have been put in place is careless. And those who hosted them are reckless as well, putting themselves and others at risk. What is more concerning, as Dr. Weldon has indicated, is that the single event and our current outbreak is of a version of the coronavirus that is known to be more transmissible – that of the UK Variant.
Last week I advised that the Government will not hesitate to reimpose certain regulations if necessary to protect public health. Today, as recommended by the Ministry of Health, and with the support of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee, the Cabinet has agreed to the following:
- Curfew will be reimplemented from 12 am-5 am, due to the current outbreak of the new UK strain.
- Due to the re-imposition of the curfew – All businesses will be required to close at 11 pm
All of the other existing regulations will remain:
- Maximum number of persons for group gatherings in a public or private setting is 25.
- Outdoor funerals can be attended by up to 50 persons
- Indoor funerals can hold up to 25% of the maximum capacity for the venue in which they are held.
- Table size in restaurants, bars, and nightclubs remains at ten persons
- Boat curfew will remain at 8 pm.
- Bar service is not permitted at liquor licensed establishments. Table service only.
The curfew of business closures by 11 pm and changes will come into effect tomorrow. Therefore this evening is the last night without curfew. Changes to the public health regulations that will take effect tomorrow, and therefore as of Wednesday night curfew has been set back to midnight, 12 pm. All measures will be reviewed, and an update will be provided again in two weeks’ time.
The Government takes no joy in re-implementing such measures. I take no joy in re-implementing such measures. However, we will continue to do what is necessary to control any outbreaks so that we can contain the coronavirus on our shores. We learned our lesson in November, and we will not make the same decisions as we did then now. We have learned, and we will act quickly when there are outbreaks to ensure that we can constrain any outbreaks so that they do not lead to further disruption.
As a country, we must not let the freedoms we enjoy allow us to forget that we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves and our fellow Bermudians safe. Though we may go about our individual lives every day, the battle against the coronavirus is one that we must continue to face together. One set of careless people can have an impact on the wider segment of the country. It is unfortunate, but this is where we are. This outbreak is real, and we will take the measures necessary to control it.
We must focus on our vaccination programme, and any wider outbreak will take us away from our vaccination programme into outbreak prevention. We must keep our schools open so our students can learn and not be further set back in their educational pursuits. That is the priority of the Government of Bermuda, and we will continue to make decisions that are in that best interest.
Many Bermudians have asked, especially on social media, about what kind of summer season we can expect to have, the types of activities to be enjoyed, and which events they may be able to attend.
The answer to that is determined by our actions today. What we do during the weeks and months leading to our summer season will influence our circumstances for the upcoming summer.
If we want to enjoy our summer and all that Bermuda has to offer, we must ensure that we remain sensible and vigilant in our decision making so that we can eventually put the pandemic behind us.
After tonight, the COVID-19 press conferences will move to every other week. The Minister of Health and I will be back with you on Tuesday, March 16th. Until that time, we ask that all Bermudians remain mindful of the presence of coronavirus. Ensure that any event you attend, establishment or home that you enter, is adhering to the appropriate regulations and not putting anyone at risk. Let’s continue to work together to keep each other safe.
As I conclude, I know that many in our community may need extra emotional support. If you need someone to talk with, call the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543-1111. The line is operated Monday to Saturday, from 5pm – 9pm. Again, the phone number is 543-1111. Please call as help is available.
To get accurate, reliable and timely information, sign up for the Government’s WhatsApp service. Add the phone number 504-6045 to your contacts and send us a simple message saying ‘hi’, and you will receive WhatsApp updates from the Government.
Additionally, you can get Government updates by downloading the Treefrog app – go to the App Store or Google Play, in the search bar, type in Treefrog Bermuda and download the free app today.
I want to remind members of the public that as you go about your daily lives, use the tools that the Government of Bermuda has procured. If you are going out to an event, if you’re going out to restaurants, if you’re going anywhere to a gathering, install the WeHealth app so that you can be notified of possible exposures. It is vital. It is important. It is completely private. It can run if your phone only has Wi-Fi, or it can run if your phone has regular mobile data. Download it, use it and please make sure to do your part to help us keep Bermuda safe.