Health Minister Kim Wilson disclosed today that most of the recent cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Bermuda are “almost all” of the UK Variant – known to be more contagious.
Speaking in the House of Assembly this morning, she said: “Once again, the current outbreak is as a result of social gatherings, this time in February. However, unlike last year, the epidemiological results of the most recent cases indicate that almost all of our cases are of the UK Variant, which we know to be more contagious.
“Also, most of our new cases are being spread by local residents, and the number of people infected is growing.
“Our investigations so far indicate more workplaces, more schools and a greater variety of activities are being impacted by the increased number of people testing positive for COVID-19, as they and their close contacts are being placed in quarantine.
“Additionally, the disease is spreading among a noticeably younger cohort.
“The measures are serious, but this action will enable us to slow the transmission of the virus while we work to continue our vaccination programme, which is vital in defeating the virus,” she added.
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
A year ago, the Bermuda Government made the difficult decision to suspend services, close businesses, and impose restrictions on our resident population in our efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Bermuda.
The shelter in place was very necessary, and the resulting financial, social and emotional hardship was very real. The impact of those restrictions lingers still, and as the Government works hard to support and foster an economic recovery, we find ourselves having to impose restrictions again, to reduce the spread. This is extremely disappointing on so many levels.
Everybody in Bermuda is now being impacting as a result of the actions of a few irresponsible people. Now is not the time to relax our vigilance.
In November and December last year when we experienced a sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases, our contact tracing investigations identified 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.
To curtail the spread as much as possible, Cabinet made the decision to proactively roll back earlier relaxations and put certain restrictions in place immediately. In accordance with the Public Health [COVID-19 Emergency Powers] Amendment (No. 5) Regulations 2021:
- the curfew will now be in place from 11pm until 5am
- bars and clubs are prohibited from serving patrons indoors; and outdoor service is permitted but for table service only
- restaurants, bars and clubs are permitted a maximum of 6 persons at any one table
- with all personal care services – spas, beauty salons and barber shops – staff and customers are required to wear a mask at all times
- gyms must ensure patrons keep 10ft apart
- the permitted gathering size is reduced to 10 persons, and
- indoor services and ceremonies are limited to 20% of the venue’s capacity; and outdoor services, including funerals, are restricted to 20 persons
The current 8 pm recreational boating curfew remains in place. Also, we recommend that those businesses which can operate with staff working remotely should do so.
It will also help to get to know the symptoms of COVID-19. Do not go to work or send your child to school or extracurricular activities if you or a family member exhibit:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fever of 100.4°F or higher or a sense of having a fever
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- Muscle or body aches
- Congestion/runny nose
- Unusual tiredness
It is important to note these symptoms can be, and often are, confused with the flu or seasonal allergies. So far this year, there have been no ‘reported cases’ of the flu. If you or a family member exhibit flu-like symptoms, we urge you to speak with your GP and get tested for COVID-19. If in doubt, stay home and self-quarantine. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
With the current outbreak, the Ministry of Health is working hard to contact all those persons who test positive, as well as their close contacts. Again, cooperation with the contact tracing team is enormously important, and information provided to our contact tracing team is kept confidential. By quickly identifying, testing and curbing the further movement of people infected with, or exposed to, COVID-19, we can slow and eventually stop the virus spreading and keep our community safe. Identify, test, quarantine. Repeat.
Even with our strategy for reducing the spread of the coronavirus, there is no doubt the Government’s Vaccination Campaign promises to be our best chance of moving beyond the pandemic. Simply put: vaccines save lives – and will allow our island to ‘get back to normal’.
The COVID-19 vaccine works with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. If you do get the disease, you are likely to experience milder symptoms and become less ill, as your body is better able to fight off the virus.
Those who are not vaccinated are at a higher risk of becoming infected if they are exposed to the virus and, if they become infected, they are more likely to develop serious illness compared with those who have been vaccinated. They also risk passing their infection onto others. This includes people in the population who are unable to develop an immune response to fight infectious diseases and are at a high risk of serious complications and death. In addition, there are people with underlying health conditions such as a severe allergy to a vaccine component who also may not be able to get vaccinated.
People who cannot be vaccinated can still be protected if they live among others who are vaccinated. When a lot of people in a community are vaccinated the virus has a hard time circulating because most of the people it encounters are immune. In other words, the virus comes up against a ‘dead end’.
The more people in our community who are immunized, the less likely it is that people who are unable to be vaccinated are put at risk of even being exposed to the virus. This is the herd immunity that is our goal.
In Bermuda herd immunity can be reached if 70 percent of our resident population is immunised. So, effective today, Bermuda will be in Phase 3 of the vaccination allocation strategy. Phase 3 allows everyone over the age of 16 to register to be vaccinated.
Although priority will continue to be given to those aged 65 and over, to achieve our goal of protecting the most vulnerable, everyone is now invited to register to be vaccinate.
If you are unable to register online, call the Vaccine Hotline at 444-2498 and select option #2. If you are aged 50 and over, you can also call Age Concern for assistance on 238-7525 between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm from Monday to Friday.
It is understandable that some people are unsure about the COVID-19 vaccine, and for those people it is critical to get information about the vaccine from trusted sources. Such information can be found at gov.bm/vaccines where interested persons can learn about the vaccine approval process, find answers to a number of vaccine-related questions and review facts versus fiction when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bermuda is in something of a footrace against the coronavirus. We must quash the current outbreak; and the new restrictions announced over the weekend will be the ‘circuit breaker’ we need. We must contact trace, test and quarantine as quickly as possible all those persons exposed to the virus. And, we must continue to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, this Honourable House has heard me speak before about the steps we need to take every single day to help stop the spread of COVID-19: wear a mask, physically distance, practice good hand hygiene and download the WeHealth app. Also, avoid the three “Cs” of closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places with many people nearby, and close-contact settings such as close-range conversations.