Premier David Burt warned residents not to become too complacent, now that the rate of positive COVID-19 test results have tripled from September to October as a result of air arrivals.

Speaking at the latest COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday (November 17) he acknowledged the fact that infection rates for passengers arriving in Bermuda had increased in recent weeks.

As a result, he urged residents not to become complacent to avoid the new lockdowns taking place in other countries.

He also noted that 24,000 people arrived at the LF Wade International airport since it reopened on July 1.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Kim Wilson said visitors to Bermuda will be now be required to have a negative coronavirus test no more than five days before their departure to Bermuda, as a result of the increase in infections.

That’s down from the previous seven-day requirement for non-residents.

She noted that pretesting availability had improved in the US and Canada.

The Government is now “in the final stages of discussion” with “a chain everybody knows” to make more pretests available to travellers to Bermuda, she added.

“It’s a chain that’s widely accessible within the United States. It should pose very minimal difficulty for Bermudians travelling overseas to access PCR tests and they have indicated they will have the results within 48 hours.”

The Minister also re-emphasised the safety measures already in place, in the lead up the influx of students studying abroad returning home for the festive season, who are “more likely to come home this month and next to visit family and friends”.

“Vigilance around returning travellers – and compliance with the mobile quarantine provisions in effect – is especially important,” said Ms Wilson.

“I want to re-emphasise that mobile quarantine requires that a resident or visitor with negative COVID-19 PCR pre-departure and arrival test results must still test on Day 4 and Day 8. Likewise, a resident or visitor with a negative Day 8 COVID-19 PCR test result must still test on Day 14.

“As the Minister of Health, I remain concerned that some travellers believe that two negative tests means “we’re fine; we can do anything.” To be clear – that is not the case. There are restrictions that apply to returning residents and visitors regarding their movements and activities, until they have a negative Day 14 test result.

“For example, a traveller with a negative pre-departure test and negative arrival test can dine outdoors but not indoors, and cannot visit a bar or nightclub,” she said.

“After a negative test result on Day 8, a traveller can dine indoors but cannot play a contact sport even if it is played outdoors. That person also cannot attend a large event such as a wedding.

“Our community is protected only when everyone does their part and plays by the rules.”

On that note she added: “Stay safe, Bermuda, and, remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me.”

As the Minister responsible for tourism, Premier Burt said: “It is important to note that 40 percent of our imported cases have pre-tests on day 6 and day 7.

“The tourism industry recognises the need for this change, and it is important to note that Bermuda still offers more flexibility than a number of other jurisdictions who require a negative pre-test within 72 hours of departure. These changes are necessary as globally we’ve seen an alarming rise in coronavirus cases,” he added.

“This increase in cases globally was also seen locally as we witnessed a spike in imported cases over the last four weeks, with our 7 day daily average of new cases hitting numbers not seen since the spring.

“While there has been this increase in imported cases, it is worthwhile to provide data and context so residents can better understand the reality of our management of this virus on our borders.”

He also repeated what he has said previously saying: “Our Public Health Officers at the airport are doing a tremendous job. They are accurate, thorough, and fully immersed in their role; and we are very fortunate to have such a dedicated team on the frontline of our fight against the coronavirus, and every resident should be grateful and proud of their diligence.”

Since the airport reopened on July 1, he said 24,000 passengers arrived at the airport “and only 66 of those 24,000 passengers tested positive for the coronavirus on or after arrival; that means just over one quarter of one percent (0.27%) of arriving passengers were infected or became infected with the coronavirus”.

The breakdown on a month by month basis:

  • in July, the positivity rated was 0.36%
  • in August, it fell to 0.17%
  • in September, the positivity rate hit its lowest level measuring at 0.13%
  • in October the positivity rate tripled the amount that it was in September measuring in at 0.39%
  • And as of last Thursday, 12 November, the positivity rate for November was tracking at 0.38% – though that number would have come slightly as there has only been one positive case that have been reported in the last five days

“While 66 infections is a large number for our small country, it is important to note that these are all imported cases – the 66 of them are all imported cases – and our stringent testing programme catches almost all cases,” said Premier Burt.

“It is also important to note that the positivity rate that we observed in October is almost the same as what we observed in July. There were less cases as few people were travelling. However the positivity rate of .36 in July is just a bit lower than the positivity rate of .39 in October.

“What we have seen, which has been different, is an increase of travellers testing positive on day 4 and day 8. Which some will assume, that means individuals possibly are contracting the virus at some point in time during their travel. Not necessarily on the airport but possibly before the airport or after their tests and before the board the airline,” he added.

“This is why, as the Minster of Health has said, it is essential that travellers observe the Mobile Quarantine rules. The Minister of Health outlined the restrictions, making sure they maintain physical distance and not going indoors with large gatherings until they are permitted to do so.

“Our most effective weapon in the fight against the coronavirus is Bermudians remaining vigilant and continuing to follow protocols. We all know what it is: wearing the mask, good hand hygiene, and maintaining physical distancing.

“While some may question the need to continue to be so wary, and I’ve seen a few persons who keep on speaking about there are so few cases why do we have to keep on doing this? It is just a reminder that it’s a Catch-22, it’s a chicken and the egg. The reason why there are so few cases is because we continue to do this and if we stop doing this, then we will see what is happening in other places where they do not have the strict rules that we have here in Bermuda.

“For all of our successes at the airport with arriving passengers, the Government has been alerted to several gatherings, social events, and other functions where attendees have been indoors and have not been adhering to the protocols,” he said.

“This is not the time to get complacent and this is not the time to slack off. I certainly understand COVID fatigue. I get it, I get tired of wearing a mask as well. It is not fun to continue to maintain physical distancing. I actually got in trouble at the supermarket the other day, as I forgot to wait behind the line and someone reminded me. That’s the challenge that we have.

“But here is what I want to remind everyone, that we cannot, especially at this time, where we see an increase in imported cases, tests on day 4 and day 8 and what is happening all around us with the coronavirus to get weary.

“We have an enviable record, and the only way we are going to maintain that enviable record, maintain our record of almost no local transmission is to continue to follow the protocols, as it only take one person, or one couple to infect others at a gathering and lead us back to a place of restrictions like we are seeing in so many other countries,” said Mr Burt.

“I have said in the past, that many Bermudians are facing a very difficult and uncertain time. Many are unemployed and need additional financial support. For some more than one person in the household is unemployed and they don’t know where they will find funds for everyday necessities. I want to remind all Bermudians, that there is help available. We have said on numerous occasions that this Government will not let people go hungry during this pandemic. If you need help, contact the Department of Financial Assistance, as there are processes in place to ensure you get you receive the support that you need.”

On the controversial COVID-19 vaccine, both the Minister and the Premier said Public Health England had committed to providing Bermuda with a proportionate number of vaccines that were being used in England.

If England had enough vaccines for 20 percent of its population, then Bermuda would receive the same amount, as would the other British Overseas Territories, the Premier added.

Meanwhile, Minister Wilson said she believed the Covax centre organised by the World Health Organisation would also secure the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well as the AstraZeneca vaccine.

She also disclosed that refrigeration facilities needed to store the vaccines had been sourced and ordered and were on their way to Bermuda.

She did not provide the cost to local taxpayers.

Highlights of Premier David Burt’s full statement:

The uncertainty of not having a job, the stress of worrying about the coronavirus, and the significant changes that have taken place this year alone, have created a great deal of stress, leaving many feeling anxious, depressed and in some cases extremely isolated.

If you are experiencing any of these feelings, please please reach out and get some help. There are professionals available who are able to hear your concerns and help you to deal with the feelings you may be having.

The phone number is 543 1111. Professionals are on the line able to answer and speak to you and make sure you take care of your mental health.

On the reality that some people are facing about their prospects for future employment – we did speak about the funds which were made available for Financial Assistance.

But as we all know, Bermudians are working people and we have survived for well over 400 years in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean because we are hardworking, creative and industrious. I believe that part of our DNA means Bermudians want to work, and not be supported by the government.

Accordingly, the Minister for Labour recently announced the Government has added 40 occupations to the closed category for work permits. That means there are 40 jobs and careers where work permit applications will not even be entertained to ensure that Bermudians who have been laid off can find their way back to work.

I also wish to speak about job training programmes that are on offer at the Department of Workforce Development; particularly as the deadlines to sign up for the courses are quickly approaching.

The Department is offering training courses in: Computer Literacy, Administrative Assistant, Certified Cleaning Technician, Hospitality [Food & Beverage], Digital Literacy, Landscape Gardening, and they are also running a graduate training programme for recent college graduates.

For people who wish to begin or enhance their computer skills the Department is offering a Computer Literacy Course that will give participants access to over 300 courses that are geared to produce proficiency in Microsoft Office software, and the Microsoft Windows platform. The deadline to apply for that course is 27 November.

In partnership with the BEDC, the Department is also offering an Administrative Assistant course that is ideal for those who may currently have low-skilled jobs that do not pay them enough for them to meet responsibilities; or people who have lost employment. Participants will learn the skills, and duties of a 21st century Administrative Professional. The deadline to apply for that course is also 27 November.

These days, companies, organisations, and other venues are far more aware of the need to disinfect and sanitize areas, and the need for overall cleanliness, especially in light of the pandemic. Accordingly, the Department is offering a course entitled Accredited Cleaning Technician. While there are many after-hours jobs that are tidying, for people who graduate from this course persons, upon graduation, will be certified for a career and the deadline to apply is 27 November.

In another valuable partnership, the Department and the Bermuda Tourism Authority are offering the Learn to Earn hospitality course that is ideal for those who wish to enter the Food and Beverage Industry. The course will teach skills and provide a solid foundation, as well as practical on-the-job training. The registration deadlines are 27 November.

For those who have rudimentary computer skills but need to enhance their skills in the digital realm, the Department is also offering a Digital Literacy Course…to teach participants about the Office 365 suite of software. The course will also provide an element of job readiness to assist course graduates to attain greater employment opportunities. The deadline to apply is November 27.

Landscape gardening is one industry where we have a large amount of guest workers. It may be because while most Bermudians have cut grass in their youth [and perhaps their adulthood], gardening is a far more serious endeavour. Knowing trees, plants, shrubs, their seasonality, and other elements will be taught. Those who prefer to be outdoors, or those who want to enhance their skillset from cutting to designing and planting, will greatly benefit from the Department’s Landscape Gardener course. That deadline to apply is also the 27 November.

For university or college graduates who have not been able to find full time employment, the department is running a graduate trainee programme. This initiative will match graduates with opportunities within their chosen field or industry. They will gain benefits from experts in their field, build a personal brand, and find out what it takes to thrive. The deadline to apply for that in next week Monday, November 23.

Whether you require financial assistance or retraining due to redundancy or other downturn in your industry, the Government is providing avenues for Bermudians to restore the personal pride and dignity that comes from working and earning a wage.

This Government is working and doing all we can to keep Bermudians safe and employed during these unprecedented times. The Department of Workforce Development, the Department of Financial Assistance, and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, are all working to aid employment. Government departments and agencies will continue to work together to develop programmes that will attract new business to our shores and find ways to diversify our economy. While we train Bermudians for employment opportunities while they are developed. That ends my update for today.