A new set of COVID-19 restrictions go into at 6am Sunday morning in a bid to “arrest” the current spread of the virus after 81 new cases were confirmed this weekend and the number of active cases climbed to 294.

Speaking a Zoom news conference this evening, Premier David Burt said: “Our island is at a serious juncture as our public health system is being significantly challenged.

“The teams are struggling to keep up with contact tracing and the work that is necessary to control this outbreak. The severity of this outbreak and impact on individuals and healthcare systems could be further magnified if we do not arrest its current spread. Our first duty as a Government is to do what is in the best interest of the island and her people.

“That responsibility cannot be tempered by convenience, frustration or fatigue. We are unwavering in our determination to keep Bermuda safe and to strike the necessary balance to preserve life and ensure economic survival.”

As a result, he announced the following changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations:

1. Churches / indoor religious services save for funerals are closed to congregants but open to a max of 10 clergy or those persons required to facilitate services for broadcast.

2. Indoor dining is prohibited save for hotels whose indoor dining is restricted to hotel guests only. Outdoor restaurants and bars can remain open.

3. Indoor gyms are to be closed, as well as bowling alleys, indoor cinemas, museums, or any other indoor place of public resort. Outdoor facilities such as golf courses, tennis courts, parks, and outdoor gym equipment can remain open.

4. Retail stores to be restricted to 20% of approved fire occupancy at any one time.

5. To minimise mixing of school age children, where we have seen a significant level of cases – Schools and camps are to be closed. However, licensed day care facilities will be allowed to open following strict public health guidance and  will be visited by public health officers.

6. Remote working will now be mandatory where at all possible.

“All other regulations that were in place previously, will remain in place, including personal care services, which are allowed so long as masks do not have to be removed,” said Premier Burt.

“The curfew will remain from 11pm – 5am.  Simply put, indoor activities that require you to remove a mask are not allowed.

“For Christians, tomorrow (Sunday) begins Holy Week, the culmination of Lent, a period of sacrifice and preparation. Again this year it would appear that traditional celebrations will be impacted and we will have to avoid large family gatherings that often accompany this Season. But in the midst of what is a difficult period we must continue to have hope,” he added.

“We have seen what happens when we follow public health guidelines. We know how effective it is when we protect our most vulnerable. The unity of the last year was no accident and is not some distant memory. Our collective compliance is what got us in sight of a change in this pandemic and I am confident that with the status of our vaccination programme and with the cooperation of the entire country we will have it again.

“My message to all echoes precisely what the Minister of Health has said, as much as possible, stay at home and stay in your family bubbles.”

He also noted that the Government will take a “look at what adjustments are necessary in light of vaccinations status and others” in days ahead.

“But on a broad level – now is the time for a shift of behaviour,” Mr Burt said.

“This situation is very serious and we must all take personal responsibility for our actions, and collective responsibility as a community to protect our brave frontline healthcare workers.

“We must be vigilant and use what we have at our disposal. We have the tools to keep this virus at bay, but the only thing that will help us all is if we follow the rules and stay at home. We will have more details on Tuesday at our next press conference, but for now there is only one message; we need people to remain at home.”

While noting that “we started down this road over a year ago”, he said: “We are currently being challenged by an aggressive strain of the COVID-19 virus”.

“It would be an understatement to say that it is disheartening for Bermuda to be where we are. 2021 is still a year that continues to hold some promise of an improved economic situation and this current setback is one from which we will recover.

“There is a clear path to that recovery and it starts with a renewed and unified effort to mitigate the risks presented by this increase in positive cases, which are the result of this dangerous and incredibly transmissible variant,” said Mr Burt.

“We laid out indicators, where if necessary, we could systematically rollback measures to reduce the virus transmission.

“The stricter measures that will be adopted are designed not only to protect but to preserve the basic progress we all made over this last year.

“This UK variant is a strain that has caused many other countries to suffer the same slowdown in the fight against the coronavirus.”