Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update
Good evening Bermuda.
It was Malcolm X who said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today”. In my National Address on April 25 I outlined how we will move beyond the pandemic and into a future where restrictions are ended and our lives here in Bermuda return to normal.
To prepare for that future and ultimately to get there, requires us to work together to eliminate local transmission of the coronavirus, maintain strong protections at our border to keep dangerous variants out, and continue to progress with our vaccination programme.
Due to our collective efforts we have seen our positive case numbers steadily decrease, and local transmission begin to significantly slow. As the Minister of Health will outline shortly, we are just about at 50% of our entire population being fully immunised, and we have already implemented stronger protections at our borders which will be strengthened in the coming weeks. We are doing what is necessary today, for a normal future tomorrow.
In addition to the work we are already doing, there is a need to stay one step ahead of the virus and do what we can to support local businesses, Bermudian workers, event promoters, and provide ourselves with the ability to hold important family and cultural events that we have been without for so long. Through technology we can do this, and tonight I will provide details of the SafeKey programme that will allow us to reclaim our summer and our Island, while keeping all of us protected.
I am joined tonight by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will provide the country with an update on the latest coronavirus test results, and preview some new health guidelines.
We will also be joined tonight by the Bermuda Hospital Board’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Wesley Miller who can answer any medical questions from the media or questions relating to the hospital. Unfortunately the CMO will not with us this evening as he works non-stop and is certainly in need of rest. So we wish him well.
First we will hear from the Minister of Health.
Thank you, Premier, good evening everyone.
The Ministry of Health received 858 test results since the last update, and two (2) were positive for coronavirus. This gives a test positivity rate of 0.2%.Both of the new cases are classified as local transmission with known contact as they are associated with known cases.
Additionally, since the last update, there were 37 recoveries and no deaths.
There are currently 136 active cases, of which;
- 127 are under public health monitoring and;
- Nine (9) are in the hospital, with two (2) in critical care.
Since March 2020, Bermuda has recorded 2479 total confirmed cases of COVID-19; out of those, 2311 persons have recovered, and sadly, 32 COVID related deaths.
The source of all cases is as follows:
- 298 are Imported
- 2100 are classified as local transmission of which:
- 1655 are Local transmission with known contact/source and
- 445 are Local transmission with an unknown contact/source
- 81 are Under Investigation
As investigations proceed, transmission categories may change. The seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is less than one (1). Bermuda’s current WHO country status remains “Community Transmission”. We continue to see our numbers getting better. Our number of active cases is falling, and our recoveries are increasing. This is all good news. But we must continue to take this pandemic seriously. We are still in community transmission with 136 active cases, compared with 8 active cases just three months ago. There is still a high risk in our community that people can contract the virus.
We are trying to prevent new outbreaks, and I remain concerned that if we have social gatherings and events and mixing of households, we will have more cases. So, gatherings and mixing of households should be minimal, if they happen at all. Similarly, while working from home is no longer mandatory, we strongly recommend that those who are able, continue to do so.
Community transmission of the coronavirus is real. Being disciplined in everything we do is going to help us. I think we are doing well, and I am confident that we can get the virus under control . . . follow the guidelines, get tested and please, speak to your physician about the vaccination. I will now provide an update on our vaccination programme…
We have completed the eighteenth full week of vaccinations. From January 11 to May 15, 2021, Bermuda has administered a total of 65,497 vaccinations – a figure that rises to 66,564 if you include vaccinations administered between Sunday May 16h and Monday May 17th as well! –all of which is excellent news.
Of the 65,497 vaccinations administered for the period we are reporting on, which ends May 15th;
- 52% are women, and,
- 48% are men.
Significant progress has been made in vaccinating our most vulnerable population, and I am pleased to report 79.9% of all residents over the age of 65 years have had at least one vaccination with 70.2% being fully immunised. To date, 53.9% of the population has been vaccinated (with 1 dose), and 47.7% of the population has been immunised (with 2 doses).
We’ve made remarkable progress, since our vaccination campaign began at the beginning of the year. The vaccine is extremely effective at preventing severe illness and death, which we saw demonstrated through the challenging outbreak that caused the Stay at Home regulations to be put in place. I encourage everyone who wishes to be vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
For recent travellers, the Ministry of Health guidance is being updated to support vaccination after your day 4 negative COVID-19 test result. You no longer have to wait until after day 14. You can get vaccinated at the Bermuda College, which is open Monday to Friday, 9:00 am until 1:00 pm for walk-ins.
You can also make an appointment to get vaccinated at Bermuda College between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. However, the Bermuda College is not open for vaccinations on the weekend. The Bermuda Hospitals Board vaccine centre is open daily between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm for anyone with an appointment. This is especially convenient for people who are working during the day and who need an appointment in the evening or on the weekend.
Our mobile vaccination sites are also convenient as we visit various locations around the island, three times per week.
Later this week, the mobile vaccination programme will be at the following locations:
- Thursday, May 20, at the Southampton Princess from 10.00 am – 2.00 pm.
- Saturday, May 23, TCD in Hamilton from 10.00 am – 2.00 pm.
This week’s mobile vaccination programme will be for individuals who wish to get their first dose, as well as for those who need to receive their second vaccine shot, following their first dose three weeks ago. The vaccine is most effective after you receive the second dose, so don’t forget to go back to Southampton Princess or TCD to get that all important second shot.
Next week our mobile vaccination programme will be at the following locations:
- Tuesday, May 25, the Open Door Christian Fellowship in St. David’s from 10 am until 2 pm,
- Thursday, May 27, at the Sandy’s Secondary Middle School from 4 pm until 7 pm, and,
- Saturday, May 29, at the National Sports Centre from 10 am until 2 pm.
These neighbourhood sites are for people who have not yet registered for the COVID-19 vaccine, do not have access to the internet, and prefer to register in person or have additional questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. There will be doctors on site to answer any questions you have, and you don’t need an appointment. You can just show up and roll up your sleeve.
We recommend the Close to Home mobile programme as an ideal opportunity to learn more for those people who want to hear about the COVID-19 vaccine from a trusted source.
And please don’t forget that there is a free mini-bus service available to take people from their homes to the mobile vaccination sites and back to their homes afterwards. Call 533-5903 between 10.00 am and 1.30 pm if you need a ride to one of the mobile vaccination sites. Anyone who feels they need a home visit for the COVID-19 vaccine, please contact email@example.com, or call the hotline 444-2498 and select Option #2, and the team will arrange a visit in the coming weeks.
Since the mobile vaccination programme began on April 27, a total of 1,012 vaccines have been given as of May 16. About 90% of injections were administered to people receiving their first dose. Parents who are interested in having their children vaccinated are encouraged to register their appropriately aged children on gov.bm so the Ministry of Health can gauge interest in being vaccinated.
The Food & Drug Administration and Health Canada have both approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years old. Parents.
As the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bermuda Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office specifies the vaccine can be used on people aged 16 years and over, we are still working on a resolution of this issue before we can begin to administer the vaccine to the lower age group of 12 – 15 year olds. As Bermuda reaches a milestone of having 50% of our population immunized, I would like to announce some changes to our guidance.
A number of people have asked, “Why aren’t we following the guidance issued by the Centres for Disease Control and Infection, the CDC, with respect to immunized persons?” I can say that each country has developed its own approach in battling the coronavirus. Bermuda takes into account the information, advice and guidance issued by trusted sources such as the World Health Organisation, Public Health England and, yes, the CDC. However, we cannot blindly follow other organisations. We must take into account our own situation as we adjust and adapt to the pandemic.
For example, the CDC has a quarantine period of ten days and does not require its citizens to ‘test out’ of quarantine. In Bermuda, however, we have found residents testing positive on day 8 and day 14, so we have not followed the CDC in advocating a shorter quarantine period, and we continue to require a negative test result to get out of quarantine.
Nonetheless, we are pleased to see our indicators moving in the right direction and will now update our guidance as it pertains to immunized persons. These relaxations apply to immunized persons only.
- Return to work: If you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from work unless you have symptoms but you must wear appropriate PPE and test at the beginning and end of COVID-19 incubation period. Certain workplaces, such as healthcare providers and Corrections may require a more strict application of this.
- Mask wearing indoors: Indoor gatherings are allowed with other immunised people (i.e. those who have had two vaccine doses + 2 weeks have passed) without masks being worn. However, people with medical vulnerabilities should continue to wear masks if physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- Mask wearing outdoors: Gatherings outdoors with other immunized people with no masks worn are allowed except in certain crowded and high risk settings or venues.
Given that Bermuda is still in community transmission, it is important to know that key public health measures will continue to be in force. These include having a curfew, limiting the size of gatherings and the number of people seated at a table and, most important, wearing a mask indoors where physical distancing cannot be achieved or the vaccination status of the people around you is unknown.
I cannot over-emphasise this point: after vaccination, mask wearing is the single most important public health measure you can take. If you are not vaccinated, wear that mask!
Also, before I end, I would like to address the timing of the traveller’s pre-arrival test. It was announced previously that the timeframe for the pre-arrival test would change from 5 days to 3 days, from 6 June. We have listened to the concerns expressed about this being too short a period to allow for a test result to be received. Therefore, from 6 June the Ministry will change the timeframe for the pre-arrival test from 5 days to 4 days.
Finally, I want to thank all of our health care team, our front line workers, our testing team, case management and the contact tracers, the vaccination team . . . all the people who go above and beyond the call of duty, every single day. They work incredibly hard to manage this pandemic and keep this island safe.
I also want to recognise our Emergency Medical Service providers. This is Emergency Medical Services Week, and we pay tribute to our paramedics and emergency medical technicians for their daily efforts and service to our community. Our EMS providers deliver essential care, they risk their lives, and they save lives.
Thank you, all, for everything you do. You all do an amazing job.
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, 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.
Stay safe, Bermuda, and don’t forget to avoid the three “Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places and close contact settings.
Thank you Minister of Health.
Thank you to you and your team at the Ministry for all of your hard work. It is very encouraging to see our vaccination numbers continue to increase, especially while seeing our active case numbers decrease. I am also very proud of the success of our Close to Home mobile vaccination programme which has seen well over 1,000 persons vaccinated with an access of 150 doses administered today in the east end of the Island.
I thank the Bermuda Health Council, and all of the doctors and nurses, who are both inside the Ministry of Health plus the volunteers who come to make this programme a success, as well as ensuring that it is informative by being on hand to answer any questions that anyone may have regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
It is also thanks to you, the public that this week we will hit the milestone of 50% of our population having received two doses of the vaccine, and closer to community protection. Though there is still work to be done to eliminate local transmission we are making progress thanks to the people of Bermuda for actively following Public Health guidelines to protect our healthcare system. The progress we are seeing and the changes that the Minister of Health was able to announce, is proof that the strategy we implemented, the sacrifices we made, and the actions that we are taking are working.
In order for this progress to continue we must stay the course. Strong protections at our borders are not ideal, but they are necessary to protect our country from dangerous variants that can threaten what we have achieved.
We have seen countries around the world, who are held up as examples of how to handle the coronavirus begin to re-implement restrictions, such as Singapore who are now closing schools. The United Kingdom is considering slowing the ease of restrictions while ramping up their own vaccination programme, and as we know, India remains overwhelmed and that variant is spreading. This is all due to the fear or direct impact of new variants within these countries and a stark reminder of why protections at our border must be robust.
Taiwan, which has been hailed as a success throughout the pandemic, is now experiencing its worst outbreak with 1,000 new cases in ten days and a vaccination programme that is struggling to get underway. This proves that no country is immune to the impact of the coronavirus, and governments around the world continue to make difficult decisions in the interest of protecting public health.
The Government has also made difficult decisions to protect Bermuda locally, and at our borders. Thanks to those decisions being effective we can now begin to look to the future and use technology to help us get there.
We have used technology such as the WeHealth app to help notify persons of exposure and to manage outbreaks. We will now use technology again through the SafeKey programme to stay one step ahead of the coronavirus to support businesses, and continue to get Bermudians back to work.
I am pleased to provide details regarding the rollout of our SafeKey initiative. The SafeKey will provide a secure option for allowing activities such as indoor dining and in the near future, larger events, that are important to the cultural fabric of our island, to be held. This is not a vaccine passport, as you do not need to get a vaccine in order to have access to the SafeKey or the events or activities that you will be able to access.
SafeKeys are part of an effort to upgrade our Negative Test and Vaccination Certificates to make them verifiable pdf documents. The certificates will contain all information necessary to verify the results of your negative test or vaccination to another jurisdiction.
The SafeKeys will contain only the minimum details of your initials of your name, your month and day of birth, and an expiry date. These will be used in parallel with another form of identification, such as a driver’s licence or passport, to verify your identity and it does not contain information about whether you tested negative or vaccinated thus preserving your individual privacy.
Both the new certificates and the SafeKeys contain a QR code that make the documents able to be read by an app. They contain the same data that is presented next to it and the data is digitally signed for authenticity.
The digitally signed negative test certificate and vaccination certificate will help combat concerns about certificate fraud as these certificates will not be able to be faked. The digitally signed SafeKeys will make it possible to ensure that they cannot be faked when used for local purposes.
The QR codes and digital signatures are developed according to the MIT Path Check Foundation’s Paper Verifiable Credential Standard. Initially they will be verifiable by scanning them using the website verify.gov.bm on your phone and later by any application that supports the standard.
The initial roll out will be an early pilot to test how to best leverage this new technology. Persons can obtain a SafeKey QR code by meeting one of the following criteria:
First, receiving a negative coronavirus test result and that QR Code will be valid for three days or being fully immunised and that QR Code valid until June 15 in this initial rollout phase.
As this is a new and experimental programme these expiry dates may be adjusted depending on the level of community transmission and to learn how and when best to apply them.
These new certificates and SafeKeys will be gradually rolled out over the coming weeks. Negative test results in the coming days will be upgraded to the new certificates and include the SafeKey. Persons receiving a negative COVID test result by email – after Thursday – they will include the COVID SafeKey QR code in the email you traditionally get now with your negative test results.
Fully immunised individuals will begin receiving emails with a link where they can visit to verify their vaccination record details and be issued an upgraded certificate as well as a SafeKey.
This initial experimental rollout will run until June 15. Participating businesses will be able to scan the QR code and visit verify.gov.bm to verify the details and compare them against the ID of the individual to ensure it is the correct person.
These SafeKeys are being issued limited to just this trial period so we can learn from the process and plan for the next phase. Vaccination SafeKeys will be able to be renewed for future phases.
It is important to note that participating businesses will not need any special equipment in order to use the programme, only a phone with a web-browser and camera. The SafeKey program is also built on open source technology so that any local company can write programmes to utilize them and incorporate them in the support of their business.
There are a number of local app developers who we have spoken to who will be interested in using this to help their events to take place. If you are a local app developer, and want more information on how you can develop an app using SafeKey, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A successful initial pilot of SafeKey was held over the weekend which was used for an exempted gathering of people. The initial plan for the use for SafeKey will be to allow for indoor dining to resume and for churches to increase in-person attendance for corporate worship. Using SafeKey for indoor dining will therefore allow many local businesses to re-open while we continue to eliminate local transmission. Of course, we have heard of our restaurants that are struggling, and we are happy to include them in this first phase.
In the future, SafeKeys may not be required for these activities if we successfully eliminate local transmission. What we are planning for SafeKey, right now, they are to have access to events which, on a broad level, are restricted but as we move to the next phase – so for instance, if we are successful in meeting our targets and moving to Phase 3 with the resumption of planned indoor dining and other items, then SafeKey will not be required to be used for those activities.
However, at this time while we are still in a place of Community Transmission, and we want to make sure we are driving down and eliminating local transmission, it is important that we insure that risks are minimised at these establishments. That is the reason why these things are going to be implemented. The long-term view and vision for the SafeKey programme is to support larger events to take place in the future.
SafeKey is being particularly targeted to make it possible to reopen events and will be used for the Bermuda Day Event at National Sports Centre. As we gather more information of its effectiveness and the participation of individuals, we will look to expand its usage to other large events in the near future.
It is anticipated that SafeKey will allow events such as larger weddings to take place so that couples can have their special day, no longer having to postpone during the pandemic while knowing we are reducing the risk of that gathering by ensuring that persons are either fully immunised or attendees have tested negative within the previous 72 hours which can serve to minimise the risk. It is important to know you can never fully eliminate the risk but what we are trying to do is minimise the risk, to drive down and eliminate local transmission.
SafeKey may also enable us to reopen local sports as well as other indoor and outdoor activities allowing our people to enjoy some of our national pastimes.
The pilot has the potential to be a useful tool to help continue our positive trend towards eliminating local transmission and to make sure we can continue the process of reopening our economy and allowing business to resume. It is hopeful that we will learn from the successful application of this technology so that we can begin to plan for the resumption of important events like Cup Match, knowing that there is a method to reduce the risk for fans that may be attending, for staff and players alike.
In keeping with sport, we are now moving to Phase 3 of the Return to Play Strategy. The Government has advised the Bermuda Cricket Board that training can resume, with saliva testing being administered to all players. Discussions have also begun to restart the league, and county cricket, as well as holding our annual Cup Match celebration.
We know that though we are looking to the future, there are still businesses and individuals affected by the current closures. I remind all individuals who cannot work that help is available and the Unemployment Benefit administered through the Ministry of Finance, is there to support you. You are welcome to apply online at uba.gov.bm.
To businesses that have been affected by mandatory closures, please go to bedc.bm to apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Grant for small and medium-sized businesses. It is a reminder that these grants are there to cover the immediate costs, such as rent, utilities, social insurance and health insurance premiums for employees, as it is important and vital that while you are still affected by closures, that support is there.
The Government will continue to support you, and is committed to making Bermuda a more affordable place to live and do business. I was elated by the announcement from the Regulatory Authority that electricity rates will be reduced across all customer groups for the second year in a row. This is keeping with the Government’s promise to reduce energy prices in Bermuda, and we are happy that Bermudian residents and businesses will benefit from us working collaboratively with the Regulatory Authority, and the energy producer in Bermuda to deliver on that promise.
Bermuda, we are all working hard and working collectively to move beyond this pandemic. We have outlined new guidance tonight that is only possible through our determination and togetherness to see an end to local transmission of the coronavirus and ultimately to reach our goal of an end to local restrictions.
We have also announced new technology in SafeKey that will help us to stay one step ahead of the coronavirus, and open up our local businesses safely. It is important to note that SafeKey will require legislative change. Our aim is to try to get it in place for this weekend, the latest it will be in place by Monday and we will be able to make an announcement when we confirm the time the legislative amendments will be able to be made.
It is important for all of us to remember that we are preparing for the future today, and we will reclaim our summer, we will reclaim normality in Bermuda as long as we remain united in our goals and vigilant in our actions.