As the number of confirmed cases continue to climb, COVID-19 restrictions will be extended for another two weeks from December 22 to January 4, 2021 – including the 11pm curfew on New Year’s Eve.

Speaking at the latest COVID-19 briefing last night (Dec 17), Minister of National Security, Renée Ming also confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Bermuda’s prison service. But she would not say whether or not that includes the island’s prisons and she could not give numbers.

She did say however, that the cases linked to the island’s prisons had been isolated and that “all persons” had been tested.

On the actual number of positive cases, Ms Ming said she was “kind of concerned that there’s some sensitivity around that number”.

“The health and safety of the officers, staff and inmates at the Department of Corrections is our paramount concern,” she added.

Meanwhile, Premier David Burt said there could be more minor changes to the curfew restrictions announced next week leading up to Christmas.

But he said the extension was necessary in a bid to slow down the “frightening” spike in cases and he was confident that the recent measures taken to slow down the local rate of infection was working, saying they were “targeted and effective”.

He also urged Bermuda’s public to continue to take precautions, including social distancing, wearing masking and washing their hands frequently.

In the lead up to the Christmas holiday, he said: “It is working. We are testing more people than ever before. Our numbers while still too high are falling. Our R number, for today has now fallen below 1, but our 7 day average is still higher than where it needs to be.

“The reality is that this outbreak is not yet fully contained…This is certainly not the news anyone wanted to hear, and not the news that I wished to deliver, but it is vital that we get full control this outbreak so that we can return to a place where our virus management was envied,” said Mr Burt.

“A hasty exit from the restrictions could lead to us having to reimpose restrictions at a later date, and that is not something that any members of the Government wish to do.

“Do not think only about yourself as you may be fine, but consider the vulnerable,” he added.

“Consider your parents, consider your grandparents or consider your great-grandparents.

“The coronavirus spreads asymptomatically. People who are not sick, who feel absolutely nothing, can pass it on to people who can get very sick, need hospital care and succumb to the symptoms of this virus.”

He also announced that the unemployment benefit payments for those affected by the restrictions will be extended for another two weeks.

Highlights of the Premier’s full statement:

As we enter the season of celebration, one that normally involves dining out, socializing, and shopping, we are painfully aware that the protocols employed to counteract the coronavirus have caused challenges in the economy.

For retail businesses, a bumper Christmas shopping period can make up for weeks or even months of slower sales. For businesses like in-home bakeries, Christmas represents their busiest period of the year. Making puddings, mincemeat tarts, fruitcakes, farine pies, and many, other delectable Bermudian treats, generates much-needed income, especially for seniors who are the guardians of old, treasured, delicious Bermudian recipes.

Spending our time with family and loved ones; sharing our time with neighbours and those in need; and giving our time to help churches, organisations, and people who care for the homeless and hungry.

Time is the one gift that we all can give, and at the end of an unprecedented and challenging year, we all need to know that someone is thinking of us; and someone cares enough to share their time on us.

Since this recent surge began our teams at the Ministry of Health have been working flat out to control this current outbreak. They have gone above and beyond. The scale of numbers over the past few weeks have been frightening, and it has required the coordinated efforts of many to control this outbreak.

We are actively managing the coronavirus, but I cannot stress how vital it is that we each do our part. The measures that we deployed have been targeted and they have been effective. However, we must continue to physically distance, wear masks, sanitise our hands, and downloading the WeHealth Bermuda app, if we do all of these things we will bring this outbreak under control.

There is no reason why we cannot emerge from this period of restriction, however it is essential that we cooperate with one another, cooperate with contact tracers, quarantine if advised, get tested if directed. We ALL have a role to play.

  • Assistance to those affected will be extended. Those who have been approved for benefits will received a second two (2) week benefit.
  • Assistance Paid – please go to gov.bm to apply.

Assistance to Business

The Executive Director of the BEDC, Ms Erica Smith announced that $1 million has been set aside to provide emergency grant relief for the businesses that have been impacted by mandatory closure and quarantine notices.

The funding will provide financial support to businesses that are members of the BEDC such as bars, nightclubs, member’s clubs, and restaurants.  The emergency grant will assist with the payment of the business’ rent, utilities, social insurance, and health insurance premiums for employees.

To apply for the emergency grant, visit BEDC.bm and complete the application.

The grants given can range from $5,000 to $7,000 depending on the size of the business defined by its annual revenue generated over the last 12 months. The amount of funds allocated will also be determined by invoices and bills as part of the application process.

The BEDC is working hard to make sure the businesses that need the money receive the funds. They have expanded the existing COVID-19 Business Continuity & Sustainability Funding Programme launched in April. This programme has been expanded and the BEDC will consider all requests for financial support, including stimulus and innovative business ideas, and will use the available funds to support more small businesses that are in need.

Small and medium sized businesses are vital to Bermuda’s economy, and as a country, we have to do all we can to support these organizations so they can weather the tough times and grow as the economy grows. The Government is happy to support these businesses and thanks the team at the BEDC for their continued work to support these businesses.

I want to touch on an announcement I made at a recent press conference. The Coco Reef hotel is offering a special rate of $79 per night plus applicable fees for residents who cannot quarantine in their homes. This rate is based on an eight night stay and only available for returning residents required to quarantine.

I will now move to the WeHealth Bermuda app.

As of this morning, almost 16,000 people have downloaded the WeHealth Bermuda smartphone app. That means almost a quarter of the entire island (which includes adults and children) have downloaded the app.

This is a very good start, I will urge those who haven’t done so yet to download it. Visit the App Store or Google Play. You can find it by searching “WeHealth Bermuda.”

Our families, our neighbours, our community depends on us to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The WeHealth Bermuda app can help by providing anonymous exposure notifications to those who were close enough, for long enough, to have potentially been exposed to those who test positive for COVID-19.

As a reminder: when a person has received a positive confirmation, they will be given a randomized and anonymous code by the Ministry of Health. That person will then need to enter the code into the app on their phone, in order for WeHealth Bermuda to anonymously notify other WeHealth Bermuda app users.

WeHealth Bermuda does not use or collect personal information or track users’ locations, these notifications will be completely anonymous. The technology behind WeHealth Bermuda has been designed to specifically protect app users’ privacy and identities.

Instead of using personally identifiable information, the WeHealth Bermuda app uses secure Bluetooth signals to measure how long and how close app users were together. These Bluetooth signals do not carry identifiable data or information. They do not track your location. Your WeHealth Bermuda information and identity stays completely anonymous.

I downloaded the app on my phone during the testing stage. Since I’ve downloaded it I haven’t had to do anything with the app. Once it is installed on your phone, there is nothing else to do.

Thank you to everyone who has worked to make the launch successful. Your hard work is truly appreciated.

If you have questions about the WeHealth Bermuda app, please visit www.gov.bm/wehealth or email covidapps@gov.bm.

We all look forward to celebrating the holidays. This year our celebrations will be different, as our family groupings may be smaller, we won’t visit each other’s homes as we normally would. Dropping off gifts may be just that – leaving them on the porch or by the kitchen door.

The goal for this holiday season is to ensure we don’t spread the virus by moving outside of our social bubbles.

I urge our young people to not get together with their friends as they normally would at this time of year. Some have returned home already and many are returning this weekend. The temptation is to go and hang out with those you haven’t seen since the summer. Don’t. The simple message is, assume that every person you interact with could be a carrier of the coronavirus. Do not think only of yourself.

There are many in our community who are experiencing high levels of stress due to the impact of the pandemic, many are unemployed or worried about their jobs and the employment of family members. Others are caring for loved one. We are all facing high levels of stress. If you need help and someone to talk with, help is available. Call the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline – 543 1111. Someone will be there to help you.

The next COVID-19 press conference will take place next Tuesday December 22nd  at 5:45pm.