Press Conference April 24th

Premier’s COVID-19 Update

Good evening Bermuda.

On April 23rd, the new moon represented the start of Ramadan for Muslims around the world. Here in Bermuda, on behalf of my family and the Government of Bermuda, I would like to extend greetings and warm wishes to our local Muslim community. Ramadan Mubarak!

Bermuda is a country of diversity… diversity which enriches our culture, and our community.  I join Bermuda in thanking our Muslim community for the positive contribution that they continue to make in Bermuda. Of course, I’m saddened because I normally get to attend events to celebrate but this year these events cannot happen.

Never far from our hearts are the people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are right now battling this virus. Our prayers continue to be with you. Also, never far from our thoughts, are those who have been economically displaced by this pandemic. Thousands of Bermudians in the blink of an eye found themselves without an income and without the means to provide for themselves. In response, the Government through the Ministry of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports, in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, launched the COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance Program. We are getting a number of phone calls and emails from persons anxiously awaiting their Unemployment Benefits and though over 5,000 residents have been paid over $7.7 M to date, there are still some persons who have not yet received a payment.

No later than Tuesday of next week, 28 April, the Government will process and deliver instructions to our banking partners to process and pay Unemployment Benefits to over 2,000 new applicants and approximately 500 people that submitted in March, but have not yet received benefits due to processing problems and incorrect banking information that was submitted. Individuals who have previously received benefits will be paid on the regular two week cycle: next week Thursday and Friday. To speed up applications and processing, the Ministry of Finance has deployed a team of internal and external resources to work through these applications to ensure that payments are made no later than next week Tuesday.

Persons who submitted an application but have not received email confirmation that their employer has verified and validated their application should call their employer and ask them to do so. Meanwhile, all employers should check and take the necessary steps to validate the applications that they have received as quickly as possible. The Department of Workforce Development continues to work hard to process these applications, and that Department themselves have received more resources to assist in that endeavor.

There are some persons who have challenged the Government about whether or not it’s doing enough in this regard. What I would say is that the enormous effort to create a system and to process payments for 5,000 persons already and looking to do an additional amount this upcoming week is proof positive that though the Government is closed, the Government continues to work and will continue to deliver for Bermudians.

Now more than ever, Bermudians must be prepared to invest in themselves and take advantage of the grants, scholarships, and student support available. Please take advantage of the training courses that we are providing via the Department of Workforce Development and online through the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation.

Earlier today, drive-through testing of Bermuda’s essential workers began at Southside. There were some hiccups in the beginning, but I’m told that things are in full swing now. I’d like to extend my thanks to the Minister of Public Works, who is helping to make sure that all is going smoothly. Essential workers’ testing is arranged via the essential workers’ employers, so that means it’s being organized by the Regiment, the Police Service, the Fire Service, and the other employers of essential workers. This testing will continue throughout this weekend.

We are further encouraged that as of yesterday Bermuda has the highest per-capita testing rate in the Caribbean. While this news is encouraging, we cannot forget the lives that have been lost or the 55 people that are currently fighting COVID-19, either in the hospital or at home in isolation. You remain in all of our thoughts and prayers and we will continue to provide the resources, manpower, and collective energy of our Government towards containing COVID-19.

The Minister of Health will now provide an update from the Ministry of Health, and will also detail the COVID-19 modeling, which is being made public today, and which will inform our community of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead. Minister.

The Minister of Health’s Statement

As reported last night, 61 test results were received yesterday, all of which were negative. We have received 80 results today, but due to the need to inform doctors and patients it would be premature to disclose any details tonight, but will do so as soon as possible.

I’m very disappointed to see that the Royal Gazette has already reported information prematurely and before any official figures are shared. I need you to know this reporting has put the home, residents and staff in an extraordinarily difficult situation. I’m disappointed at the complete lack of regard for patient confidentiality and sensitivity to residents, families and staff.

All residents at Westmeath have been tested and all staff are being tested also.

At this time our recorded positive cases stands at 99, as follows:

  • there are 55 active cases, of which
  • 44 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
  • 11 persons are hospitalized;
  • a total of 39 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains at 5.

The country has been following the developments with COVID trends locally and internationally for the past few months, and today I’m pleased to present to you the modelling data generated by the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit with guidance from Public Health England and based on modelling done by Imperial College London.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and more information becomes available, the modelling will become more refined and these numbers I am presenting will change. The data I will present to you today is as of 20 April 2020.

It’s crucial to know that the numbers generated through this or any model cannot be interpreted as predictions of what will occur during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, they must be treated as estimates of what might happen, based on the assumptions used in generating these estimates and the modelling strategy used.

Therefore, it is important not to get fixated on the exact numbers. The point of the model is not to predict the future, but to influence it – to help us prepare for it and choose a good course of action.

Likewise, the Worst Case Scenario is a planning tool. It provides a ceiling figure for the maximum foreseeable impacts which would occur if the COVID-19 outbreak was uncontrolled.

Some of these numbers may sound scary…but recognize that the Worst Case Scenario is what Bermuda could experience with no interventions or public health measures. Bermuda has already put many such interventions in place ranging from social distancing to the shelter in place that we are currently in.

So first, I will talk about the Worst Case Scenario for Bermuda. The Worst Case Scenario sees potentially over 54,000 (54,109) infections (including asymptomatic infections); over 3,000 (3,096) hospitalizations; 981 persons requiring critical care and 718 deaths.

The peak for this case scenario would be 22-25 May, but again, remember that this would be the situation if no interventions or public health measures were put into place.

The numbers are higher than what might be expected because the severity of COVID-19 is age-dependent, with more severe outcomes seen with increasing age and a notable increase seen in 80+ year olds…and Bermuda has an older age-profile. Both the age structure and the mortality rates for Bermuda were incorporated into the model.

Bermuda’s Better Case Scenario, which is what may occur if interventions are effective, potentially sees us with 17 and half thousand (17,540) infections (including asymptomatic infections); just over 1,000 (1,030) hospitalizations; 359 patients requiring critical care and 263 deaths.

The peak would be 6-15 September. Our aim is to do even better than this. Local data and intelligence is crucial in assessing what is happening locally and the impact on healthcare capacity.

The modelling was done using a SEIR model (Susceptible, Exposed, Infected, Recovery) with numerous assumptions including: no immunity in the population (100% susceptibility), that symptomatic individuals are more infectious than asymptomatic individuals and that upon recovery, individuals are immune to re-infection, at least, in the short term.

It was also assumed that that the average duration from onset of symptoms to hospitalization is five days for those requiring hospitalization, that 30% of those that are hospitalized will require critical care and that the overall average duration of hospitalization is 10.4 days.

In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, public health measures – also-called ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ or ‘NPIs’ –are the best defence against COVID-19. These interventions are aimed at reducing contact rates in the population and thereby reducing transmission of the virus. These interventions include case isolation, quarantine, social distancing of those over 70 years of age, social distancing of the entire population, and closure of schools.

The effectiveness of any one intervention in isolation is likely to be limited.  Multiple interventions used in combination may be required to have a substantial impact on transmission.

Optimal implementation of these interventions could reduce peak healthcare demand by two thirds and deaths by half.

To avoid a rebound in transmission, effective interventions will need to be maintained, at least intermittently, for up to 18 months or more, depending on how immunity develops in the population, either herd-immunity of through vaccination.

There are very large uncertainties around the transmission of this virus, the likely effectiveness of different policies and the extent to which the population spontaneously adopts risk reducing behaviours.

Although it is unknown how the pandemic will continue to evolve, three outcomes can be envisaged:

  • Complete interruption of human-to-human transmission
  • Recurring epidemic waves (large and small)
  • Continuous low-level transmission

Based on current evidence, the World Health Organization states that the most plausible scenario may involve recurring waves interspersed with periods of low-level transmission.

We will be publishing the model on our website coronavirus.gov.bm shortly, so the public can review all of the assumptions in detail and the results. We will also update the model regularly as our situation evolves.

I now briefly want to touch on the topic of Bermuda’s care homes.

As promised previously, we will be testing every care home in Bermuda. Today health officials and Dr Weldon met to formulate a national testing strategy that will include not only rest homes but also, for example, essential workers, healthcare workers, return to work testing, and clearance testing for persons who are isolated and their contacts.

I can report that testing has now occurred in four homes – Westmeath, Matilda Smith Williams and two other private care homes. There were 116 residents and 136 staff members tested to date.

In closing, while much attention is rightly and currently on COVID-19 cases, it is important to remember that people continue to have other medical emergencies such as strokes, heart attacks, serious infections etc. KEMH’s Emergency Department is open 24-hours every day and urges you not to delay in getting medical attention for any medical emergency you or a loved one may experience. Please call your doctors or 911, just as you would before the COVID-19 pandemic. Your condition could worsen if you do not get immediate medical attention.

Thank you Minister of Health. Now the Minister of National Security will provide an update on his Ministry, also matters surrounding the airbridge flight from London which is arriving now, and also information on how taxi operators can apply to be eligible for the provision of delivery services. Minister.

The Minister of National Security’s Statement

The daily Community Advisory Points continue across the island supported by the Royal Bermuda Regiment (RBR) and the Bermuda Police Service (BPS). On Wednesday (April 22) there were 13,633 stops, and yesterday, (April 23) there were 11,532 stops.

This evening our Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation (DRRM) Team are working with our colleagues at Customs, the Department of Health, the Regiment and Skyport to welcome 97 returning residents back to Bermuda on the British Airways airbridge flight. All arriving passengers have been pre-processed electronically by the Department of Immigration to minimize contact with our Customs Officers. From a safety standpoint, as part of the landing process, each officer conducting inspection duties will have the appropriate PPE. And each passenger will be given a face mask as well as have their temperature checked in the arrival hall. Once the thorough landing process is complete, the returning residents will be transported by the RBR to an approved Government quarantine facility, which is managed by the DRRM Team in partnership with the Bermuda Reserve Police and licensed security personnel.

This evening’s arriving British Airways flight will also have on board critical and much needed medical supplies and PPE equipment. These include:

  • 12,000 COVID-19 testing kits;
  • 10,000 N95 masks – personal protection equipment; and
  • Other non-COVID-19 essential pharmaceuticals required to meet the island’s regular needs.

In this regard, I wish to thank His Excellency Governor John Rankin, Deputy Governor Alison Crockett, the Government House staff and Bermuda’s London Office for all their hard work in facilitating this flight.   Tomorrow (April 25), the British Airways flight will depart Bermuda with 74 passengers on board who are returning to the UK. To ensure the safety of all persons involved, we have instituted a strict protocol process for tomorrow’s departing flight. Again, the DRRM Team, Customs, the Department of Health, the Royal Bermuda Regiment, Skyport and British Airways staff will all work to coordinate the processing of the 74 passengers on tomorrow’s departing British Airways flight.

Turning to the Shelter in Place approvals for businesses to operate – to date 73 businesses have been granted permission. These businesses have very strict guidelines in place and must adhere to them at all times. The public can visit www.gov.bm to see what businesses have been granted permission to operate. Any business that opens contrary to the Emergency Powers (Shelter in Place) Regulations is liable to prosecution.

Since we have instituted this process, we have received robust feedback and some queries regarding the guidelines for taxi operators. I think we have to be clear – we must always adhere to the safety guidelines in place by the Department of Health, because they are in place to save lives.

As a reminder, here are the guidelines for taxi operators. In order to operate during the shelter in place period persons must apply to the Ministry of National Security for permission. Taxi operators can provide a courier service and they must have a partnership or be connected with a permitted business, such as a:

  1. Grocery store
  2. Pharmacy
  3. Laundromat
  4. Pet shop
  5. Hardware store
  6. Plant nursery
  7. Shipping, freight, courier company
  8. Water distribution Services

The public can contact an approved business for the pickup of goods and the taxi driver can be the courier of the goods. Taxi operators should not be in the area of an approved business seeking a fare.

Under special circumstances, a taxi operator can pre-arrange to take an individual to a grocery store, however the Ministry of Health’s guidelines must be adhered to. This includes:

  • Practising Social distancing and wearing masks and gloves
  • Having no contact with customers; and
  • Wiping down areas of taxi and packages

For more information about the Government’s health guidance regarding COVID-19 and the Shelter in Place regulations visit www.gov.bm/coronavirus.

Thank you Minister. And just to make sure that it is clarified, persons who own a taxi service must be approved by applying on the permitted business application website, and only permitted taxis will be able to operate so make sure you go to the website which can be found at coronavirus.gov.bm to go ahead and make that particular application.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the gradual easing of some restrictions will be done in a way that limits the risk of transmission. We need to make sure that we continue to keep people supplied during this Shelter in Place. And we need to make sure that people who are sheltering in place have the necessary support while working from home, facilitating homeschooling, and activities for their children, and supporting students who are now doing online learning. We want to help people navigate this new normal that will be with us for the next week.

With my Cabinet colleagues’ support, the following changes will be made in time for Monday, April 27. I have asked the Governor to further amend the Shelter in Place regulations to add office supplies, computers, and computer supply stores to the list of permitted businesses. These will open on the same basis as other permitted businesses, also with the permission of the Minister of National Security, meaning that they’ll only be open from Monday to Wednesday, and only for prepaid and pickup services, or they can be done via delivery services as the Minister of National Security just indicated.

Home-based businesses will be able to operate for the delivery of their goods, only again, someone cannot visit someone’s house. Small businesses able to convert to home-based delivery operations will be permitted to either replenish or secure stock from their existing business venue for the purposes of delivering items from home. Also, wholesale food suppliers will now be permitted to engage in home delivery. I’m confident that the Ministry of National Security team will act quickly to grant the permissions, so that persons with the surnames of A to F are able to take advantage of this on Monday.

As your Government, we receive many emails, voice notes, social media posts, and tweets of support and encouragement. Many of you are keeping us in your prayers, wishing us well, and encouraging us to protect our own health under these trying times. We are truly grateful for your support! This week I received encouraging letters from Alexis Sousa, a 10 year old who attends Purvis Primary, and Angelo Burgess, a P5 student at Purvis Primary. Both of them took the time to write gracious letters of appreciation for the work that my team and I are doing to keep Bermuda safe. I was able to give Alexis a call earlier today, and I wanted to give Angelo a call as well, but we didn’t get his number in time. So Angelo, if you’re watching, thank you very much for your letter. The letter that you sent and the appreciation and encouragement expressed in that letter means a great deal to me.

While we receive plenty of encouragement from our community, there are some who have questioned the bipartisan approach that we have taken, keeping the opposition informed and welcoming their ideas and contributions. Just for the record, in April we had three WebEx meetings with members of the Opposition. On April 3, myself, the Minister of Health, and the Chief Medical Officer in addition with other officials from the Ministry of Health had a general update via WebEx. Last week, on April 15, it was myself and the Minister of Health to give an update on the preliminary modeling information; and also last week on the 17th of April, myself, the Minister of Health, and officials from the Bermuda Hospitals Board were there to give an update on measures that were taking place for preparation at the King Edward Memorial Hospital. I’ve spoken on the phone with the Leader of the Opposition a total of 15 times in March and April.

Earlier today, the Minister of Education also extended an invitation to all members of the Legislature, including the Opposition, to participate in the learning activities of our students.

Despite the adversarial nature of the Westminster system, our record during the COVID-19 pandemic is clear, and our minds remain open, our doors remain open, and our phone lines remain open. Every member of the Legislature has access to us by email, or even via social media. And I will say that many of them do take advantage of that. It is very important that during this time that we continue to work collectively in order to save lives. I am going to do my best to remain above the fray, so that we can have our energies focus on the work at hand, rather than what our Westminster system will actually have us devolve to.

In closing, to all those involved in protecting our health, caring for those who have contracted COVID-19, patrolling our highways and byways to enforce Shelter in Place, keeping us fed, and helping the Government to keep you informed: thank you very much! And before I go to questions, I actually got in a little bit of trouble on Wednesday when I went home, because I promised my children that the next time I did a press conference, I would say hello, and I went home and Nia said, “Daddy, you said you were going to say hi to me and you didn’t.” So sweetie, I’m sorry. And Nia and Ed, Daddy says hi, he’ll be home soon!

Happy to take your questions.