Government reimposes Covid restrictions as cases of Omicron variant surge
New Covid-19 restrictions are set to be introduced from tomorrow to combat a sharp rise in Omicron cases.
A curfew will be reintroduced between 12.30am to 5am and masks must be worn indoors at all times and outdoors when within 6ft of other people.
Tables and bars at restaurants will be limited to groups of no more than ten people, spaced six feet apart. The restrictions will be in force until at least January 20, next year.
In addition Kim Wilson, the Health Minister, also “strongly” discouraged household mixing, saying if they did everyone should take an antigen test before meeting.
At a press conference on Covid yesterday, Ms Wilson highlighted an “astronomical” rise in overseas cases attributed to Omicron.
She warned: “The majority of cases we have are imported and the majority are vaccinated.
“But our fear, and that’s one of the reason we are implementing these public health regulations, is that’s going to shift.”
Ms Wilson said trends overseas showed “the majority that contract the Omicron variant are going to be persons that are vulnerable, that are not going to be vaccinated”.
She said a spillover from immunised cases and from travellers would come “as sure as day follows night” and that it was “just a matter of time”.
“From what we are hearing from those who have been infected, the positive cases are symptomatic, though for those who are vaccinated, the symptoms are mild.”
On Thursday, the following requirements will come into effect:
A curfew from 12.30am to 5am
Maximum group sizes will move back to 20 people
Household mixing is strongly discouraged. However, if people must attend a household other than their own over the holidays, they are strongly urged to take an antigen test before visiting another home.
Masks must be worn indoors at all times and outdoors when people are within 6ft of another person.
For restaurants, bars and clubs, tables will be limited to a maximum of ten people and must be spaced 6ft apart. SafeKey will continue to be required for these indoor settings.
Government is encouraging employees who are able, to work remotely from home. Government is also encouraging employers to use antigen tests to ensure staff who must be at the workplace are negative for Covid-19.
Churches will be open, however masks must be worn by all, including the officiants, congregation and choirs.
Gyms can remain open but SafeKey must continue to be used and physical distancing must be observed.
Personal care services: SafeKey is recommended for those services that require masks to be removed.
Most infections were said to show cold-like symptoms and Ms Wilson urged anyone with even mild symptoms to stay home despite the social events of the season. She recommended people work from home where possible.
“The goal is to reduce the severity of transmission, reduce the factors that could result in community transmission, which could result in higher resource needs at the hospital, more deaths, and an increased capacity in overwhelming our healthcare system.”
Ms Wilson acknowledged that contact tracers struggled to keep up during the fourth wave of Delta variant cases in the autumn.
She said health officials would once again send out letters to people who tested positive, with instructions to assist in contact tracing.
Rest homes maintain separate precautions of their own – but the Minister said they would “probably implement further restrictions”.
The Royal Bermuda Regiment will also assist in checking on households where travellers and others are under quarantine.
Ms Wilson said expedited arrival testing had proved popular, but it had placed additional strain on the Molecular Diagnostic Lab.
She added: “The Cabinet has agreed to continue the programme for a fee of $200 to ensure sufficient resources and timely results.
“When the expedited process can be based at the airport, which we anticipate will be early in the first quarter of the new year, that fee will be reduced.”
Ms Wilson said a point would come when mass vaccination in Bermuda would start to scale down.
“We are hoping doctors will come on board to assist in providing the boosters.”
She said discussions were under way to establish how much of the jab would be covered by insurance in the future.
Diallo Rabain, the Acting Premier, said the Government would not underestimate the Omicron variant in the wake of its swift rise in Bermuda.
He added: “The Government recognises that the regulations announced today will be disappointing for many persons and businesses.
“We understand that plans will be affected, events will need to change or even be cancelled.
“We do not like this at all, and we do not enjoy having to implement such measures at any time, but especially at this time of the year.”
He said that while more than half of the island’s Omicron cases were imported, the Cabinet sub-committee had not proposed any additional movement restrictions for newly-arrived travellers.
Mr Rabain said: “We will continuously monitor and if additional restrictions have to come in place, additional restrictions will be put in place.”
On Monday it was revealed that more than 100 new cases of the coronavirus have been logged. The number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Bermuda has also shot up to 74.