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Pressure group says meeting was ‘fruitless’

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Pressure group Us For Them Bermuda described a meeting with health officials as fruitless. The group previously handed out stickers for masks saying "Worn Under Protest" against mandatory mask wearing for children at school among other regulations (Photograph Supplied by Us For Them Bermuda)

A pressure group opposing certain Covid-19 regulations for children have described a virtual meeting held with health officials yesterday as “completely fruitless”.

Us For Them Bermuda representatives were given 20 minutes with Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, along with three other health officials at noon but said that its questions remained unanswered.

A spokeswoman for the group, which is considering options including protests and legal avenues, said: “None of the research and data behind the all-day masking policy on schoolchildren was provided to our group, although we were previously told it was being compiled for us.

“The minister would not disclose any targets or metrics the island might meet in order to lessen restrictions on schoolchildren, which include: wearing masks all day while indoors from age 4 up; no singing, no assemblies; single-class bubbles; no co-operative play; parallel play only; no woodwind or brass instruments; no sports days; intramural or interschool sports; no graduation ceremonies; no field trips or excursions; no school photographs; no extracurricular activities; no birthday parties; and no end-of-year events.

“When asked for the data which the health ministry is using to set policy, we were told it would be provided later.”

The spokeswoman said the group felt it had explored all channels for dialogue with law makers and expressed “extreme disappointment”.

She added: “While we welcome further discussions, we remain determined to protect the rights of our children and to prevent them from being harmed, and will consider all avenues to do so including civil protests and exploring legal options.”

The group called on more parents to join the fight against public health regulations for children and said it was “saddened” that paediatricians, doctors, teachers, school administrators and children-centric groups had not spoken out against the measures.

“The restrictions on children could be much more proportionate to what we know about the virus today. We hope more adults will step up as advocates for children,” the spokeswoman said.

Ms Wilson responded last night that she was happy to meet with Us For them Bermuda to hear their concerns, but maintained the importance of mask usage in the island’s schools.

She said: “The Ministry of Health recognises that no single intervention is perfect at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

“Mask wearing is one layer among multiple layers of interventions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With this in mind, mask-wearing has been advised as a safety measure for children in school and child care settings and the general community.”

Ms Wilson said that according to evidence the Omicron variant was “currently disproportionately affecting” children, and that there had been 69 recorded outbreaks in schools since December 1, 2021.

She said: “Additionally, there were ten outbreaks in the Daycare settings in the same time period.

“Emergency room visits in children are also multiples of what was seen in previous waves. There are several examples of transmission of SARS-COV2 virus from cases acquired in schools to household members.

“The comprehensive research and data behind the indoor masking policy on schoolchildren is still being compiled and will be shared publicly when our report is completed. This is continually modified to reflect Bermuda’s outbreak circumstances and the health and safety of our community.”

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, met virtually with Us for Them Bermuda (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Government last month moved schools back to Phase 1 – the strictest set of rules. It included mandatory mask wearing for children in primary 1 to 3 in while indoors at school.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said at the time that the move to Phase 1 was a direct result of the number of positive cases that were being reported in lower school grades.

He said: “This is not the first time schools have been in Phase 1 and the shift is to support the safety and health of students and staff, which is a priority.”

The Ministry of Health has not responded to questions by this newspaper with regards to how many infections were detected at the lower grade levels, whether they were continuing to rise and whether the move to Phase 1 has had any effect on the numbers of infections being traced back to schools.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, said afterwards during a press conference that the island had a major risk factor because it was a small island with only one general hospital – which could be overwhelmed in a large-scale outbreak.

Ayo Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, added during the same press conference that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus thrived in the upper part of people’s airways, which made masks – including double masking – an effective way to cut transmission.