Teenagers in Bermuda have the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with health authorities on Monday opening vaccination to all residents over the age of 16.
Health Minister Kim Wilson told the House of Assembly that the government’s vaccination campaign was “our best chance of moving beyond the pandemic”.
She said the island’s latest outbreak of COVID-19 infections – 40 in the space of three days – stemmed from social gatherings last month that broke restrictions against the spread of the virus.
“Everybody in Bermuda is now being impacted as a result of the actions of a few irresponsible people. Now is not the time to relax our vigilance,” Wilson said.
Unlike similar outbreaks in November and December linked to three events at two venues in one weekend, the surge in new cases was “almost all” linked to a more contagious UK variant of COVID-19.
Minister Wilson said it was spreading among a “noticeably younger” demographic, and that “more workplaces, more schools and a greater variety of activities are being impacted” as people test positive and their contacts are quarantined.
She noted that the Cabinet had responded by rolling back “earlier relaxations” and imposed new restrictions, including an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and reducing gatherings from 25 to a maximum of 10.
Bars and clubs are only allowed table service outdoors and are restricted, along with restaurants, to six people per table. Masks are required for personal services such as spas and barbers, and gyms must keep patrons 10 feet apart. Indoor services and ceremonies are limited to 20 percent of venue capacity, and outdoor services, including funerals, are limited to 20 people.
Wilson said businesses able to operate with staff working remotely had been recommended to do so.
“Bermuda is in something of a footrace against the coronavirus. We must quash the current outbreak, and the new restrictions announced over the weekend will be the circuit breaker we need,” she added.
The island has so far had 789 confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the past 12 months, with 12 people dying.
Meantime, an animal welfare charity said it had been flooded with pets handed over by owners forced to leave the island.
Kate Terceira, the executive director for the Bermuda SPCA, said it had seen “a dramatic increase” in the number of puppies coming through its doors.
“We cared, neutered and began training for over 30 puppies, each puppy costing us in excess of US$1,000. This is all during a time when we have not been able to hold our usual fundraising initiatives,” she added.
A spokeswoman for the charity said there had been more elderly cats handed in because their owners had left the island or could no longer afford to look after them.
“With COVID, people are leaving the island as they don’t have a job and are leaving pets behind. Another thing we have noticed is people moving house to downsize who have been unable to take their animals with them,” she added.
“Many landlords don’t accept pets which is a real struggle. I don’t know why it’s a problem – perhaps landlords are nervous of them destroying their property.”
Terceira added that the charity had been hit by a drop in donations, as well as fewer fundraising opportunities because of COVID-19 restrictions.