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Major relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions announced

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Covid-19 restrictions are to be loosened, the Premier said yesterday.

The announcement by David Burt came as the UK banned flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries as a new variant of the disease – dubbed “the worst ever” – was identified and a several EU nations imposed tough new rules.

But Mr Burt insisted he did not believe Bermuda was headed in the wrong direction by easing pandemic rules, and that the country was “striking the right balance” and that it was “vital from a tourism perspective that we go ahead and adjust”.

The changes, which will come into force next Monday, mean the size of large gatherings can increase from 30 to 50.

This will include weddings and funerals, as well as island boats in respect of the use of SafeKey.

Tables in restaurants, members clubs and bars will no longer need to be spaced 6ft apart.

But, for the time being, they will all still be restricted to seated service only.

Raft-ups will be allowed again and cinemas, galleries, and museums are to be allowed social distancing of 3ft with masks being worn at all times indoors.

Pupils enrolled in a school testing programme will be able to use a “student 7-day pass”, issued after a clear test result, to dine indoors with parents or guardians who have SafeKeys and attend youth sports and recreational activities that require a SafeKey.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, announced that the island’s travel rules are under review to help make the island more attractive to visitors.

She said: “We are looking at amending our requirements to ensure we are competitive.

“We will be changing the pre-arrival test requirement to accept antigen tests, which are less expensive and easier for travellers to Bermuda to acquire, as well as PCR tests.

“We are also reviewing the follow up testing once on island.”

Ms Wilson added: “The changes are aimed at allowing vaccinated visitors to begin enjoying Bermuda quickly without an extended period of quarantine upon arrival.

“Finally, we are making adjustments to enable residents who travel abroad for less than 72 hours to use their pre-departure test obtained in Bermuda, as their pre-arrival test upon their return. This will facilitate quick trips overseas.”

Health teams monitoring new variant

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said that travel rules could be updated to mandate quarantine for travellers from certain countries in light of the latest Covid-19 variant.

The variant – named Omicron by the World Health Organisation yesterday – has resulted in travel restrictions in the UK, the US and elsewhere for travellers from southern African nations.

Ms Wilson said: “What we do know about the variant is that it is heavily mutated and that it is different to the other variants that have been circulating heretofore.”

She added that decisions would be made "based on science and evidence“.

Ms Wilson said: “Legislatively, we are ready.

“Our quarantine order gives us power to mandate quarantine for travellers that are coming from specified countries such as South Africa, so in the event that we need to operationalise that, the order still is in existence and we just have to upload the country list to the Government’s website.”

Ms Wilson added that her team was in “close communication” with Public Health England and kept a close eye on developments at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation.

She said: “All of these international bodies we will continue to watch.”

The WHO has already said Omicron was a “variant of concern”.

Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, backed the liberalisation, but insisted the Government had missed a trick by axing the $75 fee for travel authorisation to bring it into line with many of its competitors.

Mr Dunkley added: “Bahamas and the United States are two countries close to us who have a more streamlined process.

“If we really want to be competitive, we need to make sure we look at what other jurisdictions do and our closest competitors and major trading partners are at the top of the list.”

He added: “We also request that amendments be made to the travel authorisation application because it appears to have run out of its useful lifetime.

“It is burdensome and, with all we now know, it can be greatly simplified to allow us to be competitive and to make travel easier for Bermudians.”

Ms Wilson said: “Success in dealing with Covid-19 requires a community effort.

“It is a community effort because this is one of the few situations where an individual’s decision to adhere to public health measures – or not – impacts all of us.

“Vaccines do work. Our island data proves this. The next step for all of us in Bermuda is to learn how to live with Covid-19.”

The Government has also dropped its strong recommendation that people should work from home. recommending working from home.

But Ms Wilson said that masks should still be worn in the workplace, on public transport or in taxis and by anyone visiting establishments such as grocery stores, shops, banks or offices.

These rules apply unless otherwise allowed by specific guidance such as that which applies to bars, restaurants and gyms and in crowded outdoor settings when other people are present and a 6ft distance cannot be maintained.

Ms Wilson said: “We will be working with the schools to implement the student 7-day pass as early as next week.

“Additional public health guidance will be amended to state that remote working is no longer strongly recommended. Offices can be open with proper public health measures in place.”

She added: “As we attend Christmas parties in the coming weeks, please be aware that social mixing is identified, through contact tracing investigations, as a primary means by which Covid-19 transmission occurs.

“Social mixing can lead to a less robust adherence to public health protocols, so I strongly encourage everyone to be careful and responsible.”

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Published November 27, 2021 at 7:48 am (Updated November 29, 2021 at 8:01 am)

Major relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions announced

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