Speaking at the latest COVID-19 briefing held on Tuesday (Jan 5) Premier David Burt extended condolences “on behalf of the Government and the people of Bermuda”, to “the family of Bermuda’s 11th COVID death”.

Joined by the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, and the Minister of National Security, Renée Ming, he said: “They’re reported as numbers here, but that is without question, somebody’s loved one, we must remember that this virus can take lives.”

Providing “an update on the changes that the Cabinet has agreed to the restrictions that are in place”, he also outlined “measures” that will be taken “going forward to help us ensure that we secure a safe future and share some reasons for hope”.

On the 2020 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, he said: “I hope that whether you had a small gathering in your home, Zoom meetings, WhatsApp or FaceTime calls or a little bit of all of them that you and your families had a safe and relaxing holiday season.

“Our celebrations were different, and difficult this year. Not being able to see certain family members, not being able to travel, gather in large groups and not being able to celebrate, as we normally do. Thank you on behalf of your government for your continued sacrifice and the collective effort that we as a country making to keep each other safe, and to beat the coronavirus.

“One proud Bermudian tradition did go on as the Gombey troupes took to the streets to perform on New Year’s Day. I’d like to thank the Minister of Home Affairs Deputy Premier Walter Roban, who acted as Premier over the holidays and the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, Minister Ernest Peets and their respective ministries and all agencies that were involved in ensuring that we can enjoy the company safely on New Year’s Day.

File Photo: Place’s Place Gombeys, Facebook

“Thank you to the Gombey troupes for their enjoyable and authentically Bermudian performances, which is a unique part of our culture, and also for working with the government to make it all possible and safe for them and for the public,” said Mr Burt.

“And I want to, of course, say thank you to the public for adhering to the guidelines when watching the Gombeys. I saw pictures and videos from areas such as Town Hill and Bailey’s Bay of residents enjoying the performances from a safe distance.”

Moving forward, he added: “The Ministry of Health will look to increase community surveillance with increased testing for teachers, healthcare workers and athletes in our consistent effort to keep Bermuda safe, and to ensure that we keep our economy going.

“We want students to be able to go back to school, families to be able to visit loved ones, and for us to be able to go and enjoy some of the regular activities, such as dance on the weekends and also football matches. We must do what is necessary in the present in order to ensure that we can get our lives back to normal in the near future.

Looking back, we have been fortunate in being able to enjoy some forms of normality that other countries cannot. And this is due to our performance and the collective work and effort, vigilance with testing and adhering to the guidelines, wearing our masks, practicing physical distancing and now, with the support of technology, using the We Health Bermuda app, while shielding our vulnerable.”

While noting that the Cabinet agreed “to extend most of the current restrictions in place with a few changes”  on Tuesday, Mr Burt said: “While I know that this may not be welcome news for some, in the interests of public health, we have made the decision to keep bars and nightclubs closed for the time being.

“This, as always what we reviewed in two weeks’ time and we’re taking this action, as we want to be absolutely sure of no spikes or surges in cases from activity around the holidays,” said Premier Burt.

“This is part of a targeted strategy that will allow us to open our public schools safely, as it is of utmost importance that we are able to open our public schools to students next week Wednesday and we must be absolutely sure that the outbreak is under control before mass reopening of our bars and clubs.

“Persons who may work in establishments that are required to remain closed and who have been approved for assistance will receive additional payments from the Ministry of Finance.

“Additionally, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation will extend and increase in support to businesses who are still under restrictions,” he added.

In closing, the Premier offered “a message of hope”, saying: “These are without question the dark days of winter. It is windy. It is rainy and in Bermuda, it is cold, and this pandemic, for many, seems to be dragging on and on.

“However, as difficult as it may be, now is not the time to give up and there is cause for cautious optimism. There is hope on the horizon in the form of the vaccine. And while I understand that the concern has been expressed by some locally and internationally, I think it is important to recognize that this is one of the vital tools we need to get back to normal.

“I will be getting the same vaccine available to you. My parents will be getting it. My wife will be getting it. And the people that I love most my life will be getting it when it’s available to them, because that is the way that we are going to beat this virus, and finally rebuild our country with Bermudians at heart.

“Our medical professionals will speak more on the science, and I encourage you to come to them with your questions, as it is important that we are open and honest about this phase of which we’re about to enter.

“Already around the world, millions have received the approved vaccines. There are so many stories of people who have matched the adversity of these times with a cheerful spirit or safe innovations that still brought joy,” he said.

“We saw recently how one family’s shielded 106 year old, Miss Myrtle Edness who could remember the impact of the last pandemic contrast with a young couple, the journey of married life begins in the midst of a pandemic, and whose love for each other could not be delayed by current circumstances.

We have come so far, and I’m approaching this new year with renewed optimism and promise. As a government, we have economic decisions to make. We have social issues to address, and we must continue to battle this coronavirus. It hardly seems possible that we have spent almost ten months in this fight, but the fight must go on.

“As always, before I close, I must remind you if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, if you’re a senior who feels isolated, or if you’re caring for loved ones and need someone to talk to the Emotional Well-being Hotline is there for you. The phone number is 543 1111, and the line is operated Monday to Saturday from 5pm to 9pm. Again, that number is 543 1111.”

He also apologized “for what was some intemperate interactions with the valued members of our media over the last few press conferences”.

“Like many, I was fatigued, and sometimes when you’re tired, you get irritable, and I need to do better job to not do that so I apologize to the media, because you play a valuable role inside of our community, asking questions on behalf of persons, to make sure that we can do our job to inform,” said Mr Burt.

“So in this new year, I will say sorry and I will do my best to be a little bit more kind.”