Government announces raft of changes in Covid regulations
An easing of Covid-19 health restrictions, including dropping SafeKey requirements for a string of venues, came into effect from noon yesterday, with some border restrictions also set to loosen early next month.
But Kim Wilson, the health minister, told the House of Assembly that the wearing of masks was to remain in effect, particularly indoors, after April 1.
Ms Wilson said masking, which has come under fire in the island’s schools, would be “vital for the foreseeable future”.
After nearly two years of a public health emergency measures against the pandemic, the following changes took effect:
· The cap on large groups, including weddings and funerals, was raised from 20 to 100;
· SafeKey is no longer mandatory for restaurants, members' clubs, bars, gyms and island boats;
· The student seven-day pass for children aged five to 11 who test negative for the virus is also dropped for venues;
· Restaurants, bars and clubs stay at seating service only, with tables limited to ten people and spaced 6ft apart.
Ms Wilson said the “transitional” regulations would likely remain until the end of March.
She added: “From April onwards, the public health emergency will be in place to support only the continued requirement to wear a mask indoors.”
Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, revealed that border restrictions are to be eased in keeping with rules at gateway cities “no later than March 7”.
He said the travel authorisation form fee would be cut from $75 to $40.
Testing on arrival of air visitors, along with “on-island testing”, will be dropped for people with up-to-date vaccinations.
Mr Scott said the new rules would come with “recognition of previous Covid-19 infection”.
He added there would be “a reduced quarantine time for unvaccinated residents”.
Mr Scott said that “cruise passenger and crew testing and quarantine procedures” would mirror guidelines by the US Centres for Disease Control.
David Burt, the Premier, clarified in response to Opposition queries that fully vaccinated visitors would still need a clear antigen test taken within 48 hours of their trip to the island.
Unvaccinated visitors would get the antigen test on arrival.
Residents coming home would not need a pretest, but would take the antigen test on arrival.
Mr Burt added that departing travellers would be able to carry out their exit testing via mobile devices.
Ms Wilson also clarified that while the legislative requirement for SafeKey had been lifted, its use could still be requested.
She said SafeKey could remain in place as a requirement for large group exemptions.
Ms Wilson defended keeping masks in the classroom, saying “closed spaces and close proximity” were risk factors in the transmission of the virus.
The announcements came as Ms Wilson outlined the toll on the island from two years of the pandemic.
The first positive case of the virus in Bermuda was confirmed on March 18, 2020.
She said science showed the coronavirus gradually becoming endemic, and reminded MPs that she had said last November that “the next step for all of us is to learn how to live with Covid-19”.
The easing of restrictions comes as the Omicron variant of the virus appears to cause “significantly fewer hospitalisations and deaths”.
Ms Wilson said: “It means the pandemic is not over for the world.
“But Bermuda is in a position to move out of substantive public health restrictions.”
She added that 72 per cent of the population had received both doses of the vaccine against the illness by January 29.