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Premier warns of 'staggering’ number of Covid cases to come

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David Burt, the Premier, announced new Covid restrictions tonight (photograph by Blaire Simmons)

David Burt yesterday warned that Government may be reporting triple digit Covid cases for the first time today.

Speaking on the Shirley Dill Show on Ocean 89 yesterday morning, the Premier warned that the number of cases over the next few days “will be staggering”.

“It is likely on Monday that we'll be reporting triple digit cases for the first time,” he said.

“They will look very staggering, but that's because we're casting a very wide net... this is very transmissible, so one person, if they are positive, is spreading it to a number of people far more than what we were seeing in our previous outbreaks.”

The Premier said the new cases are from the UK B.1.1.7 variant which is highly transmissible and is driving the outbreak. He added that new outbreak is widespread but hospitalisations are expected to be lower as many people are already vaccinated.

The prediction came after 81 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday and new restrictions were put into place to stem the increase in numbers.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, said the new results brought the number of active cases to 294, with one patient in hospital. She added that the island’s the R rate remained above one.

Bermuda has now recorded more than 1,000 Covid cases with the latest results bringing the total to 1,028.

While Bermuda’s country status remains sporadic cases as defined by the World Health Organisation, it is now classified as community transmission as defined by the Pan-American Health Organisation.

“This is a significant outbreak,” said the minister. “We have never experienced community spread.

“We have a very, very serious problem.”

She said Bermuda was experiencing a third wave which was likely to be bigger than the second wave as it involves the UK variant which is more transmissible.

Between 80 and 90 per cent of the new cases are due to the UK variant and the mean age of those affected is 33.

Ms Wilson said: “It is now more critical than ever to take responsibility for our own behaviour and act in an abundance of caution.

“Stay in your bubble, get tested and get vaccinated when it is your turn. We are having to put more restrictive measures in place.

“All of this is preventable and some people are selfishly ignoring the rules.”

Mr Burt said Bermuda would recover from the setback, but a renewed effort to mitigate the risks caused by the surge in cases was needed.

He announced series of new restrictions that will come into effect as of 6am yesterday.

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

“This UK strain is a variant that has caused many other countries to suffer or slow down in the fight against the coronavirus.

“Our island is at a serious juncture. Our public health system is being significantly challenged. The teams are struggling to keep up with contact tracing, struggling to keep up with the work that is necessary in order to control this outbreak.”

Mr Burt said churches will be closed for indoor services, indoor dining will be prohibited, apart from hotels, indoors gyms and indoor cinemas will be closed, as will venues like museums and bowling alleys.

In addition retail and grocery stores will be limited to 20 per cent capacity, schools and camps will be closed and remote working will be mandatory where possible.

Licensed daycares will be allowed to remain open.

There will also be changes to the way government offices work and details are expected to be announced soon.

The Premier said: “We are in a dangerous place and it is important that over the next two weeks people observe the restrictions.”

Ms Wilson said that of the 81 new cases only one was imported - a non-resident who arrived on a flight from London — while 35 were the result of local transmission with a known source.

The source of the remaining 45 cases is under investigation.

Ms Wilson said the contact tracing workload has intensified significantly with the latest surge in cases.

“Because of the high level of transmission in respect to this particular virus, they are coming to be overwhelmed,” she said.

“Each case might have 25 close contacts. I was at a meeting this morning and one of the cases had 80 close contacts, so the case workers are obviously working overtime.”

She urged the public to help them with their task by following Covid-19 regulations and keeping social bubbles small.

Ms Wilson added: “We know this UK variant spreads like wildfire. We are seeing it in Bermuda. We have seen it in the last two weeks.

“The reality is all of this is preventable.”

She urged the public to download the WeHealth app, practice good hygiene and be aware of the symptoms of Covid-19.

Ms Wilson said: “We are finding most symptoms associated with the UK variant of the virus are easily associated with allergies - sore throat, tiredness and headaches, coughing and sneezing.”

Those who have symptoms are instructed to contact their doctor.

Other members of the public who want to get tested can visit one of two pop-up testing facilities at the Transport Control Department and Horseshoe Bay.

The TCD testing pop-up will be on March 29 and 31 between 5.30pm and 7.30pm, while the Horseshoe Bay pop-up will be open on April 5 and April 7 between 4.30pm and 7.30pm.

Ayoola Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, said the ministry was still working to finalise details about Covax vaccines, which were initially expected arrive in Bermuda before the end of the first quarter.

Dr Oyinloye said: “We do have contact with the Covax facility and they have given us reassurances on the quantities of vaccines we are expecting and tentative arrival dates.

“There are a few questions that we need to iron out before we can confirm that and announce that.”