Bermuda government officials announced Sunday that the country will go back into lockdown from Tuesday morning for at least seven days after 118 people tested positive over the weekend.
Bermuda’s premier David Burt revealed at a press briefing via Zoom on Sunday that he had tested positive for COVID and was isolating, while his family members, who have tested negative, were in quarantine. He said he had no symptoms as he had been vaccinated.
Among the latest cases, 20 were classified as local transmission, five were travellers who arrived on flights from the US, and another 93 were under investigation.
Bermuda has a similar-sized population to Cayman, with approximately 64,000 residents.
The premier said at the briefing that it was clear “the rate of spread is far more advanced than believed and the regulations put in place have not been enough to slow it down. We must act now as continued household mixing is leading to increased transmissions.”
From 5am Tuesday, the government will be implementing ‘stay at home’ protocols, requiring people to work from home and the closure of all businesses, other than grocery stores, gas stations, banks and pharmacies. As it did in its previous lockdown, Bermuda will be adopting alphabetised days for residents to visit supermarkets, similar to the requirements Cayman implemented last year.
Burt said at the briefing, “I know this is not the news many people wanted to hear. What is important is to remember the importance of staying at home and do not mix households.“
He blamed the increase in COVID numbers among the local population as being due to “reckless conduct” of individuals who had mixed outside their family groups in the weeks before and during the long Easter weekend.
Local media in Bermuda have reported on a number of private parties, attended by more people than the maximum 25 under the previous regulations, that have been broken up or investigated by police in recent weeks. One such party at a house in Smiths Parish in mid-February has been described by authorities as a “superspreader event”.
As of Sunday, Bermuda had 877 active cases, which accounts for nearly 50% of all cases reported since March last year. Of the current active cases, 36 people were in hospital, with six in intensive care, Bermuda’s health minister Kim Wilson said, adding that two people with COVID had died over the weekend.
Four people have died in the latest surge of the disease in Bermuda over the past two weeks. A total of 16 have died since March last year.
Bermuda has enough Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to meet its aim to inoculate 70% of its population and reach herd immunity by the end of May, Burt said at the briefing. The latest available statistics show that 32% of the population has received both doses of the vaccine.
Wilson said that, as health minister, it was “extremely frustrating to know that Bermuda is in a state of community transmission because some people chose to ignore public health measures such as mask wearing and/or hold or attend parties with large groups of people in contravention with the law”.
She said she was hearing stories of people who were feeling unwell running errands or visiting friends, or going to work with a cough. “When tested, they’re found to be positive and have already infected people they have come into contact with,” Wilson said.
The UK variant of COVID-19 is the one most commonly found in Bermuda in recent tests, she said.
Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee told the Compass earlier that the surge in cases in Bermuda is “really worrying”.
“Unfortunately, when case numbers of COVID-19 start to rise, after a couple of weeks that’s when the [hospital] admissions start to increase as well. Some of the new variants of COVID are even more infectious and difficult to contain with the measures we have learned,” he said.
Burt explained on the Zoom video briefing that he had been tested five times over three weeks, and had he and his family had returned negative results on Good Friday, 2 March. However, he tested positive in the test following that one.
He said the result, even though it came back as a “very low-level positive”, had come as “quite a shock, especially as we had been extra cautious”.
“I am fine,” he said, but added that this was a reminder to “all of us that we cannot be too careful”, and he urged Bermudian residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The premier said the government would be stepping up vaccination efforts during the lockdown period. “We will use this time to accelerate our vaccination programme to ensure we salvage our peak tourism season and have a regular summer.”