August 27th Press Conference COVID-19 Update

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update August 27 2020

Good afternoon Bermuda, I’m sorry for being a few minutes late this evening. Thank you members of the media for your attendance today.

For today’s press conference, I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson; the Minister of National Security the Hon. Renee Ming, the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain and the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jason Hayward.

First up, I’d like to invite the Minister of Health to give an update on matters from her ministry and also changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations that were approved by the Cabinet when it met on Tuesday. Minister of Health.

Minister of Health Statement

Good Afternoon,

Today there were 903 test results received by the Ministry of Health, and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda has had 168 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • 151 have recovered, and
  • there are 8 active cases, who are
  • all under active public health monitoring;
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care, and
  • the total deceased remains at 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 58 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 61 are Imported
  • 86 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 19 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 2 are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status remains “Sporadic Cases”. The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1.
As I announced last week, the Cabinet reviewed the traveller requirements for passengers arriving in Bermuda without a valid pre-departure test….

….And, as of Tuesday this week, any travellers arriving in Bermuda without a pre-departure test will now be required to test on arrival and quarantine for at least eight days. They will require a negative test result after day 8 to be released from quarantine. This means they will not have to do a day 4 test.

Importantly, the pre-departure test must be taken in the country from which you are departing – that is, a test taken in Bermuda will never count as a pre-departure test to return to Bermuda. As I have said previously, we actively encourage residents to avoid non-essential travel at this time. But if you must travel, it is best to get a pre-departure test before you return to Bermuda.  This will keep you safe and prevent the mandatory 8-day quarantine on your return. I also want to highlight a further update on the guidance with regards to workplace recommendations for Medium exposure risk jobs, for those who return to work after travel. The risk level may apply to workers who have frequent and close contact with the people in high-population-density work environments, or tasks that require close and frequent contact between co-workers or between members of the public. Examples of this type of work include:

  • Schools, day care centres/providers and camps (applies to both workers and attendees)
  • Retail stores
  • Construction
  • Police
  • Public transport
  • And Gyms (applies to both workers and attendees)

Our Travel Policy Recommendation is that ideally employees should not return to work until they receive their 14-day test results. Employees should work remotely if possible. If this is not possible, employees should at least wait for their day 8 test result. The employee must comply with testing and quarantine requirements, wear a mask, wash their hands frequently and keep a physical distance of six feet from others.

For more information, please view the Safe Return to Work after Travel Guidance at coronavirus.gov.bm. I quickly want to touch on what we are calling “Mobile quarantine”…which is the period between when travellers are released from self-quarantine after their day 14 test results. Those under mobile quarantine should follow these ten requirements:

  1. Do not attend events with large groups (e.g. weddings, parties, family gatherings);
  2. Keep their social bubble small, if at all;
  3. Exercise outside and not in a gym or sports club or team;
  4. Keep away from crowded places;
  5. Wear a mask in all public places;
  6. Wash your hands regularly;
  7. Stay six feet from others;
  8. Choose activities that are outdoors;
  9. Stay out of closed spaces with poor ventilation;
  10. And do not visit elderly or immunocompromised friends or family.

And, finally, in the wake of the most recent cases, there have been some questions raised about what constitutes a ‘close contact’. I will try and provide some clarity around that point for you now… When a positive case of COVID-19 is identified in the community, the Ministry of Health begin a process known as ‘Contact Tracing’ to determine who that person may have been in contact with and may have infected. A person can be either a ‘close contact’ or a ‘casual contact’.

‘Close contact’ means:

  • Spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within six feet of an infected person in any setting;
  • Living in the same house or shared accommodation as an infected person;
  • Sitting within 2 seats of an infected person, in any direction, on an airplane.

‘Casual contact’ means:

  • Spending less than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within six feet of an infected person in any setting;
  • Being in the same room as with an infected person for less than 2 hours;
  • Being on an airplane with an infected person but not sitting near them.

Spending more than 2 hours in a closed space (such as an office or classroom) with an infected person can be either a close contact or a casual contact, depending on the circumstances. Whether it is classified as ‘casual’ or ‘close’ contact will depend on the size of the room and other factors. Health officials will let you know if you are at risk or not.  If you are a close contact of a case you must complete a 14 day quarantine and should under no circumstances attend testing sites during that period, or leave your home-quarantine. Remember that a breach in quarantine is an offence. Close contacts do not get tested on days 4 and 8 like travellers. Rather, they are tested on day 14 at a location designated by the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit.

Furthermore, employers of persons who are close contacts cannot require employees to test during their quarantine period, or in excess of the instructions given by the Ministry of Health Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit. To be clear: employers cannot request the breaking of quarantine for additional testing from their employees who are close contacts of a case.

During these 14 days of quarantine, a case manager will phone you to monitor any symptoms you may have. If you develop any symptoms of coronavirus, call your GP.  You’ll usually find out if you are a close contact because you will be notified by the Ministry of Health contact tracing team.  If you are a casual contact you should make sure you know the symptoms of coronavirus and be aware that you may develop them. You do not need to restrict your movement. If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you will need to self-isolate and phone your GP straight away to get a test for coronavirus.

It is important to note that persons who are close contacts of a case should not book their own COVID-19 test appointments…nor should they attend pop-up testing, as it disrupts the processing of test results. Persons who are a close contact should follow the guidance given to them individually by the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit.

In addition, I would like to remind everyone that with three cases of sporadic local transmission our guard needs to be up. None of us can be complacent at this time. Bermuda and the world are still experiencing a pandemic and, without the precautions we all know – mask wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing – one case can easily multiply and spread.

For this reason, as we continue to live our daily lives in this “new normal”, we have to accept that we are not back to normal – and neither are many health services. With the return to school, this will definitely impact some of the services usually provided by Department of Health staff who now have to be utilized to control and contain COVID-19. We ask for your patience in this matter… ultimately, if there is an outbreak, we will have no schools at all. So we have to use our manpower to ensure schools and the economy can remain open, safely.

Finally, before closing, I must highlight that while we are seeing excellent compliance by the public in many settings, this is not the case across the board. Our reopening indicators for mask-wearing and physical distancing remain on Red – under 79% compliance, meaning that people are taking unnecessary risks. We see this especially at private events and on boats. I’m sure many of you would have seen the video footage of the raft-up last week-end, which was truly a petri-dish for COVID-19 transmission. Had one person been positive, everyone on that raft-up would now be quarantined and unable to work.

Unfortunately, for this reason, we will be amending the Public Health regulations to limit raft-ups to a maximum of 3 boats. And I remind the public that physical distancing is required on commercial boats – or ‘party boats’ – as well as on private boats if households are mixed.  We need our reopening indicators on Green now more than ever. So please practice prevention and report on HealthIQ.

I end by reminding us all to avoid the 3 Cs: closed spaces, crowded spaces and close-contact settings. And wear your masks, always.

Stay safe, Bermuda, and thank You.

Thank you very much Minister of Health. Much appreciation certainly to the work and efforts of your entire Ministry of Health team who have scaled up Bermuda’s testing and continued to ensure that we set an example to the rest of the world.

Next will be the Minister of National Security who will provide an update on matters within her ministry including the enforcement of the changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations, announced by the Minister of Health.

Minister of National Security

As we close out our formal weekly press briefings, I wish to take this opportunity to provide an overview of the work done by the various Departments under the Ministry of National Security. Each of the individuals who work in these sections performed a vital, essential and invaluable service during this pandemic. And their work continues.

The Bermuda Police Service (BPS) and the Royal Bermuda Regiment (RBR) provided a critical front line role over the last five months. Working in partnership, the BPS and RBR monitored the road side check points during the curfew periods. The BPS and Regiment also worked 24-7 during our phased reopening process to ensure that residents and businesses adhered to the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations that were in place. Specifically, as it relates to the RBR, its embodiment since March 19th, represents the longest embodiment in Bermuda since WWII. The RBR’s mission has been to support the Bermuda Government in its COVID-19 response and this mission has been fulfilled on land and at sea, in the following ways:

  1. Shelter-in Place and Curfew Period.

During the Shelter in Place period, the Regiment mounted advisory points day and night across the island to ensure that the COVID-19 guidelines were followed. When the Shelter-in-Place period ended, the RBR had registered 270,000 advisory checks.

  1. Public Patrols.

During and after the Shelter-In-Place period the Regiment patrolled public spaces to advise people of the physical distancing regulations and to gather information that would guide government policy.

  1. Testing Facilities.  

The RBR supported the Department of Health’s testing programme by the Regiment providing soldiers to assist in managing the testing sites.

  1. Bermuda Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard has conducted the dual roles of enforcing the COVID-19 regulations and enforcing maritime law. The unit has been embodied continuously since the start of the pandemic conducting over 800 patrols, providing an average of over 16-hours a day of on-water coverage, and in conjunction with the Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre has been providing a 24 hour search and rescue response.

The Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Team:

Over the last five months, in order to manage the COVID-19 crisis, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation team (DRRM) led 38 Emergency Measures Organisation meetings to coordinate the health and public safety response effort. The DRRM team also played a critical role in managed the Government Quarantine Facilities. Members of the team oversaw the logistics for arriving flights, arriving passengers and coordinated the full management of the six quarantine facilities.

Regarding Curfew Exemptions, the DRRM team managed much of this process. More specifically, the DRRM team received in excess of 5,000 applications for exemptions under the Emergency Powers Shelter in Place Regulations. Under the Emergency Powers Legislation, permissions were also granted by the DRRM team to allow approved business to open during the Shelter in Place period and during the various phases of reopening. Regarding exemptions for large groups and gatherings, to date, around 30 exemptions have been granted to date. DRRM also worked with the Third Sector’s Coordinated Crisis Response Effort (CCRE) to align the needs of essential service providers with resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Switching to the Prison Service, in March the Department of Corrections immediately implemented a response team to deal with COVID-19 pandemic. The team was tasked with identifying response phases, ensuring that any risks associated with the COVID-19 were mitigated and minimized. The response team also finalized the department’s pandemic plan during this period.

During phase 1 of the pandemic plan the DOC executed the following:-

  • Implementation of 14-day quarantine for inmates received into custody commenced.
  • In-house visits were suspended.
  • All inmate day passes were immediately suspended and adjustments made to the reception procedures for inmates i.e. pre-screening of inmates

Once there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bermuda, the DOC took the following actions:-

  • Mandated non-security staff to work remotely
  • Suspended non-emergency escorts; and
  • Suspended the work release programme until further notice
  • Cancelled all face to face visits and substituted them with virtual visits

The DOC implemented its recovery plan on May 4, which was in alignment with the Government of Bermuda’s reopening plans. At this time, non-security staff returned to work on a phased basis. Additionally:

  • COVID-19 testing took place for inmates during the last two weeks of May.  All results were negative. And there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst staff or inmates to date.
  • On June 11, the Department of Corrections commenced Phase 3 of its recovery plan.
    • On-site inmate visits continued to be suspended; and virtual visits and phone calls to family and friends continued
    • 80% of the non-security staff returned to work at the facilities with staggered scheduling
    • Contractors were allowed into the facilities for emergency repairs.

The Department of Corrections staff must be commended for working diligently under very stressful conditions throughout this pandemic. As we continue to move to a “new norm”, the Acting Commissioner of the Department of Corrections will continue to monitor the risk levels and put measures in place to mitigate these risks so that the operations can fully resume.

Lastly, a few words regarding the work of the Gang Violence Reduction Team, led by Pastor Leroy Bean. The Covid 19 pandemic has caused significant socio-economic challenges for a large portion of our community.

What we have come to understand during this pandemic is that social and financial instability leads to stress and added tension, and added tensions can often lead to anti-social behavior and violence. In response the Gang Violence Reduction Team along with The Coordinated Crisis Response Unit (CCR) have been hard at work during the pandemic addressing tensions and maintaining a presence in our at risk neighbourhoods. The GVRT have provided our affected families, individuals and young people with much needed emotional support, counselling and emergency services during these times of hardship.

We are incredibly grateful for the efforts of the Gang Violence Reduction Mitigation Team who have worked under some difficult circumstances to keep Bermuda’s neighborhoods and communities safe.

Finally as I close, I would be remiss if I did not express a note of thanks to the former Minister of National Security, Wayne Caines JP, MP. From the onset of the pandemic, the former Minister demonstrated his commitment and dedication to keeping our island safe by mobilizing and coordinating the resources within the Ministry and throughout the community. MP Caines was on the frontlines each day standing shoulder to shoulder with our essential workers making sure that Bermuda and its people were protected. And we thank him for his guidance and his invaluable contribution during this pandemic.

Bermuda, the pandemic has no doubt affected the entire world in a way that most of us have never seen before, and its effects on our island have been no different. But we have managed this crisis extremely well, thanks in large part to the critical work of our essential workers within the Ministry of National Security. COVID-19 continues to be with us. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to mitigate the spread of the virus and comply with the policies put in place. I urge residents – please do not become complacent.

Please continue to follow the health guidance and recommendations in place to protect you and your families. One final word regarding raft-ups. There has been a change to the regulations. No more than three boats in close proximity. You will now be aware that the Ministry of National Security has increased the group assembly size from 50 persons to 75 persons. These regulations fall under the Public Health Regulations Section 5.3 A. Approvals are subject to consultation with the Ministry of Health.

I am happy to advise the general public that guidelines and the application form for large group exemptions are available on the Government portal (www.gov.bm). If you see any breaches of the COVID-19 regulations by persons or businesses – please do not hesitate to call 211 to report the violations.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Ming. The country is certainly grateful to the work of your ministry and the front line workers for their service during the pandemic.

As school gets ready to go back in, the Minister of Education is here to provide an update on the work being done to enable the safe reopening of our public schools.

Minister of Education

Good evening Bermuda:

In just over two weeks, Bermuda’s Public Schools will reopen for students on Monday, September 14. As we prepare to welcome our students back to their schools and classrooms, principals and staff are busy implementing protocols and plans for the start of the new school year.  As a reminder, schools will reopen for all students on September 14, except for those deemed extremely clinically vulnerable; those in isolation or quarantine due to travel; and those who are sick.

We have received several queries about our S3 and S4 Seniors School students based on the previous announcement that all students under the age of 16 will be expected back in the school buildings when schools reopen.  Both Senior Schools are finalizing their particular guidelines, and parents will be contacted next week with those schedules.  However, as mentioned above, schools will reopen for all students on September 14. As I am sure that we all understand, the school experience for staff and students will be different this year. In this regard, there are a few matters that we would like to bring to the attention of our parents.

Principals and Staff

Our school principals returned to school this week, Monday, August 24 and are completing final plans for accepting our students. We know that parents want to hear from their children’s principals, and this information is forthcoming.  At this point, principals are adjusting early morning entry procedures, school schedules, walking through the school buildings with custodians, planning recovery week activities, and receiving school hygiene supplies.  Our teachers will return to school next week, Tuesday, September 1. They will be engaged in training on new safety and health protocols, professional development focused on teaching and learning and organizing and preparing their classrooms for receiving their students.

School Entry Procedures

All schools will start entry screenings at 8:30 am each day. Therefore parents are urged to begin pre-planning in advance if needed, as students will not be able to access school buildings before 8:30 am. Our school leaders are very concerned about students being on the premises unattended before 8:30 am as there are risks for parents leaving students on the premises unattended as staff will not be available to supervise physical distancing and other health-mandated protocols.

Parents are advised that children with elevated temperatures will not be able to enter school buildings. In such instances, parents may have to remain at home with the child on short notice or take the child to a caregiver.  Also, parents may be called during their workday if their child is not well, and asked to collect their child promptly as schools cannot keep sick children on-site for long periods during the COVID-19 pandemic.  While these measures will have implications for families, they are necessary to protect others from risk.

We understand the difficulties imposed by the pandemic on the community. However, due to the school entry procedures, parents with school-aged children may find it difficult arriving to work on time, particularly if they have more than one child and have to travel to different schools.

As a community, we have come together to assist each other through this pandemic, and the response has been phenomenal. We are asking employers to continue to be supportive of our parents as we navigate through this new norm.  Parents, we also encourage you to be proactive and talk to your employer ahead of time to discuss your particular situation.

PowerSchool and Communications

Parents are reminded to ensure they have a parent portal in the PowerSchool app. If you are a parent in the system for the first time, you will be contacted by the Department of Education with set up instructions. PowerSchool is a powerful tool used by schools and gives parents access to student attendance, student performance and other information to help you support their child’s education, while at home.

Live Panel Discussions

The general public is invited to join in a live panel discussion with the Commissioner of Education on Monday, August 31, on the topic of staff and student well-being. Parents can also view the two previous panel discussions that were held this week, on the Bermuda Public School Facebook page or the YouTube Channel.

Also, the Commissioner of Education will host Zoom meetings on September 1st, 2nd and 3rd, from 6 pm to 7:30 pm for students to participate and ask questions. Students are invited to chat with the Commissioner about returning to the classroom in the era of the COVID 19.  Chats are as follows:

  1. Senior School Students

Tuesday, September 1,

  1. Middle School Students

Wednesday, September 2,

  1. Primary School Students

Thursday, September 3,

Students are encouraged to bring their questions, suggestions and concerns about returning to the classroom in September.  To register, students can go to the Facebook group for their level, or visit www.moed.bm.

Let me take the opportunity at this time to thank Department of Education and Department of Health staff, principals, teachers, other staff and parents for participating in the live panel discussions that took place earlier during the month.  Your participation exemplifies working together for the common good of successfully reopening schools for the benefit of children, families and our community.

Parents should also know that the Department of Education is asking for specific feedback on school reopening. The input of our parents is essential to us, so we encourage parents to complete a school reopening survey, which is included in ‘Scoops,’ the Bermuda Public Schools newsletter.  We will also place the survey on the Public School Families facebook groups.

General Election

As Thursday, October 1, is Election Day, all public schools will be closed as several school buildings will be used as election polling stations. Consequently, school buildings will be physically closed to staff and students on Friday, October 2 to ensure that schools are thoroughly cleaned before staff and students physically return to schools on Monday, October 5. However, children and school staff will be engaged in a full day of remote learning on Friday, October 2. As a reminder, an updated school academic calendar is posted on www.moed.bm website and on www.gov.bm .

In closing, let me say that these are unprecedented times for all of us. There will be challenges ahead, but working together in partnership, we can overcome them. We will reopen our schools responsibly and as always, the safety, health and well-being our staff and students is our greatest priority.

Thank you!

Thank you very much Minister Rabain. Certainly, great work by your team consisting of the team at the Ministry, the Department of Education, principals, teachers, support staff, the wider government for the assistance in putting together the plan to ensure that our schools can safely reopen. I am certain that many parents, including myself, are looking forward to September 14.

The final minister to speak before I close will be Minister Hayward, who will discuss the continued financial support in place for persons who have found themselves unable to work due to the pandemic and the work his ministry is doing to streamline the process of that assistance. Minister.

Minister of Labour

As many of you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unemployment for thousands in our community, due to no fault of their own.

In March, when the Government began implementing safety measures to protect the people of Bermuda, we also immediately implemented the 16-week unemployment benefit to support families during this unprecedented time.

Now, as the unemployment benefit comes to an end, the Government is aware that many in our community are still in need of assistance. To address this, Government created the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit and allocated funds to financially support individuals who remain in need.  “To be clear, the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit is only for Bermudians, and Spouses of Bermudians who do not qualify for support through the Department of Financial Assistance, yet still require financial assistance from the Government. “To confirm eligibility for the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit, applicants must undergo a means test administered by the Department of Financial Assistance. But it must be noted, that the eligibility requirements for the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit are different from Financial Assistance, and determinations will be made based on individual merit. It is also important to note that eligibility for Financial Assistance does not mean a person will not be eligible for the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit.

When applying, individuals need only submit an application package to the Department of Financial Assistance. If an individual has already applied for Financial Assistance within the last six months, the process is simply to request that your initial file be reactivated. However, it remains your responsibility to submit the outstanding information for vetting.   All Supplementary Unemployment Benefit recipients will receive monthly payments. Those recipients who already have health insurance will receive a flat monthly payment, while persons without Health Insurance will receive their health insurance premium in addition to their flat monthly payment. It is important to note that the insurance premiums will be paid directly to the Health Insurance Department.

The Supplementary Unemployment Benefits program is scheduled to run until March 31, 2021, and, recipients will receive a monthly flat rate of $1520 with some individuals receiving an additional monthly payment of $429 for their health insurance premium.

Since the initial announcement that further financial assistance will be offered to those in need, either through the standard financial assistance programme or the supplementary unemployment benefit, we have distributed over 683 applications.  As of the 26 August, 2020 fifty-five percent of all applications returned to the Department were in various stages of processing due to incomplete submissions. The Department has communicated with applicants to request missing documentation and verify information submitted.

If someone knows of persons in need, I ask that you to speak with the individual and ask them to apply for assistance. I am asking individuals to put aside your uneasiness and think about how this additional aid can help support your family through these challenging times.  Please visit the Department of Financial Assistance to obtain an application package, fully complete the application package, and submit it together with the requested documents for consideration as soon as possible. If persons require assistance completing the forms, they must make that request at the reception desk.  Applicants must also ensure that the name on their Government-issued picture ID matches their documents. You should also note that the Parliamentary Registrar’s Office has ceased the printing of Voter ID cards until September 9th, 2020.  And remember, as per the requirements for persons on any kind of government financial assistance, beneficiaries must immediately notify Government when commencing any form of employment.

Lastly, in speaking with members of the public, I understand there is some concern regarding the application itself, and confusion surrounding the application process.  I can advise that the Department of Financial Assistance have streamlined the application process by removing some of the forms ordinarily required.  A downloadable information sheet on the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit is currently located in the resources of the Department of Financial Assistance website at www.gov.bm.

I will now walk through the application process step by step.

  • 1. “Individuals wishing to apply must first collect an application package from the Department of Financial Assistance, located on the first floor of Global House, 43 Church Street, Hamilton. Packages can only be collected from Mon – Thurs between 9 am and 4 pm.
  • 2. “If you are unable to collect an application package, you may contact the Department of Financial Assistance Hotline at 297 7867 to make alternative arrangements. You will not initially speak with a representative as the system is geared to receive messages. Once your message is heard a representative will return your call.
  • 3. “The application must be taken away and 100% completed to be considered for assistance.
  • 4. “Once filled out, the application and any necessary documents must be submitted to the Department of Financial Assistance mailbox located on the first floor of Global House.
  • 5. “All applications received will be vetted and applicants will be notified of their status accordingly. Where information is missing or outstanding, the department will give you a couple of courtesy calls as a reminder that they await your information.

If your application is successful, you will begin receiving the approved monthly award payments using a cashless system that deposits the payments directly into your bank account or provides direct payments to vendors on your behalf.

Thank you Minister Hayward. I’m grateful for the work you and your ministry continue to do to ensure those who require assistance get the assistance they need.

With my remarks tonight, I would first like to start with a topic which is on many persons’ mind and that is the General Election. I would like to advise that I spoke with the Governor this week to assure him the Parliamentary Registrar will be supplied with whatever she deems necessary in order to ensure the country has a safe election. That is whatever PPE supplies or other materials are necessary.  The Parliamentary Registrar will meet with the Ministry of Health and put in place the appropriate protocols for every polling station. In addition to that, I advised the Governor that whatever testing capacity is necessary or needed, we will work to ensure that it is delivered. So there is no question about a safe exercise of democracy.  The Parliamentary Registry Office will also have strict guidelines in place when they visit members of our community who are sick and shut in and who would like to vote. The Parliamentary Registrar will share that guidance in the coming weeks.   Before I move on, I want to say this – we have adjusted our lives to grocery shop safely, we have changed the way we worship to do so safely, and for the most part we have socialized safely. I have every confidence that we can vote safely too.

Secondly, I can advise that because of significant amendments to the Parliamentary Election Act that the Government passed in July, this election will be the fairest and most inclusive in Bermuda’s history.   Prior to the amendments, there was no provision for visually impaired voters to exercise their right in private; according to our most recent census, this development will affect more than 2,300 Bermudians. To ensure their ballot was not spoiled, visually impaired or blind voters required an officer to oversee them marking their ballot. While the intent was to ensure a physical disability did not prevent a voter from exercising their right, it was neither an ideal nor independent process.   Accordingly, the Parliamentary Registrar has authorized the use of devices that allow voters to select their preferred candidate after an audio prompt; the device brings equality to the process.

As I am speaking about expanding the right to vote, the amendments also gave the Registrar the power to enlarge the category of persons who can vote at an Advanced Poll; previously, only people who were travelling and would not be on-island or those involved in working at the for the Election could vote in advance. I should advise that this year the Advanced Poll will take place during the week of 14 September.   In the past, travelers had to take proof of travel to the Registrar, days before the Poll and they would receive a certificate. On the day, they would take the certificate to the Advanced Poll and vote. Now voters only need to bring a hardcopy of their travel documents to the Advanced Poll, and assuming the documents are valid, they will be issued a certificate on site and allowed to vote.   Another significant amendment is related to COVID-19. In an attempt to reassure seniors and reduce risks to their health and wellbeing, seniors will be allowed to vote at the Advanced Poll. The major benefit is there are significantly fewer people, meaning more time can be given to assist seniors. The Government considered this option after consultation with the Parliamentary Registrar and Health officials and concluded this the best way to balance the exercise of voting rights with the exercise of caution.    And finally, for the first time parolees will be able to vote. In Bermuda, incarcerated individuals do not have the right to vote generally as voting is considered a right of living in community or society. However, when someone is released on parole and therefore not incarcerated, they still did not have the right to vote until their full sentence had expired; in 2020, parolees now have the right to vote.

As I move on to the management of the pandemic, from a technology perspective, it is important to know that technology will be ever more important as we look to manage the impacts of the virus going forward.  Our information and digital technology team has been working hard to launch a pilot of our own Bluetooth contact tracing app using the protocol developed by Apple and Google. The app has been developed by CovidWatch, a non-profit organization that evolved out of a research collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Waterloo.   The CovidWatch app is presently being used for a pilot with the University of Arizona, prior to the adoption by the state of Arizona and is being considered for additional pilots within universities in California. The app itself uses the Apple Google protocol which was developed in accordance with leading global research to ensure privacy in contract tracing efforts and it will be launched and managed by CovidWatch, and not by the Government of Bermuda directly.  The Health team will be provided with the ability to generate a unique code that can be shared with an individual who has tested positive which will notify any users that individual was in close contact with and could be at risk, without any indication of who it has come from, or the location or date of the potential exposure, so preserving full anonymity. Those notified individuals would be encouraged to contact the Health team to assist with monitoring and treatment should they develop the virus. By design, the government itself does not collect or have access to any details related to whom you were in contact with or where, which will be signed off on by the Privacy Commissioner before launch. So it is important to note we have designed and taken the time to make sure that we get this right.   There have been many countries with these things have been attempted but because they rushed these things to get them out to market, they did not take into account all of the considerations. We have made sure that we have put this in place in combination with research universities in the United States and Canada. They will be managing this for us so we know that we will have the best of breed app that preserves privacy so we will have the widest possible penetration to allow more of us to go about our routines.

Putting on my Tourism hat, I would like to acknowledge the Bermuda Business Development Agency and the Bermuda Tourism Authority staff are creatively working to ensure the world knows that we are open for business and a safe jurisdiction. We are beginning to see increased airline capacity and next month we will have double the capacity that we had in July, and we are forecasting to be at 60% capacity in October.  Yesterday I was able to participate in a webinar jointly hosted by the BDA and the BTA and the World Travel and Tourism Council, with over 100 participants. I discussed our Work from Bermuda campaign and was on a panel with someone who had applied, approved and has already moved to Bermuda. Capitalizing on our innovation, safety, and agility to quickly create this initiative is exactly what Bermuda has been known for – originality and leadership.   Another important development for the tourism industry and for Bermuda as a whole, is the reopening of the Hamilton Princess tomorrow. Once it reopens, Bermuda will be at just over 60% of our available hotel inventory with many more Bermudians going back to work to be able to provide for their families. These impressive results can only be achieved because the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, the Airport Authority, and the BTA have come together to work in unison for Bermuda. We have a long way to go, but the recovery of our tourism industry is well underway.

Since March, the chief objective of our COVID-19 government press conferences has been to provide information that keeps our community safe. Bermuda has delivered on that safety mission better than almost any place else in the world. You don’t have to take my word for it.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control improved the island’s ranking to Level 2 – one of only four places in the world assessed with a moderate risk level. It is a very short list. We should be proud of Bermuda’s collective efforts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office tells British travellers that Bermuda is safe, when they return from Bermuda, they do not have to return to a 14 day quarantine.

And tonight, I’m pleased to announce for the first time, the World Travel & Tourism Council has designated Bermuda as a “Safe Travels” destination. This special designation means Bermuda has adopted health and hygiene standards that meet the highest global protocols. And now, our country will have the privilege of using the “Safe Travels” stamp—a seal quickly becoming highly recognised and valued around the world because health safety has never been so important to travellers.

The CDC, the FCO and the World Travel and Tourism Council, all of these third-party evaluations confirm what our community already knows and what our Bermuda Tourism Authority and our Bermuda Business Development Agency will share with the world, that Bermuda is safer.

This, of course, is really is good news for our tourism industry and it will be shared around the world. But that good news started here at home. If our community had not followed the rules and made sacrifices, there’s no chance that Bermuda would have found itself so far ahead of other countries. As the Minister responsible for tourism, I offer my thanks to all of you. And without question, I know that there’s a group of people that also thank Bermudians for doing what is necessary. They are the many hotel workers who have been able to return back to work to provide for their families.

And as summer kicked in and as we were able to safely reopen our economy, many people -particularly younger people have seemingly become complacent and are socializing, partying, and rafting-up without taking the proper care. There is worldwide acknowledgement that the second waves that are beginning to impact countries are due to the behaviour of young people being carefree which is a perk of youth.

I wish to warn those who think this is the time to be cavalier. While you may wish to take risks, if you are not wearing a mask, if you are breaking quarantine, if you are gathered in a place where there is no social distancing being practices and you put yourself at risk of exposure the risk is not only to you. It is to your parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents.

Your immune system may be able to fight off the coronavirus, but experience shows that older people are having the worst recovery results. I implore you to please “act right”; and if you cannot, regulations will be enforced to ensure proper behaviour that doesn’t cause the type of spread we have successfully avoided. That is the reason for the changes announced today. In the restrictions of raft ups to no more than three boats.

We have all seen the images from this past weekend, of the raft up that took place and it seems as though persons are being less and less careful and more and more cavalier. I urge boat owners who may host these raft ups in violation of the law to not test the new Minister of National Security. Our job is not to punish anyone. Our job is to do what is necessary to make the changes in law to make sure we keep the country safe. No one wants to roll back what we’ve done because we all recognize the economic pain that causes.

I will pause here to acknowledge the work of a young Bermudian who wrote to me earlier this week. Ms. Jade Robinson is a pre-medical student completing her Masters of Public Health at King’s College in London, and a former volunteer for the COVID-19 Southside Swabbing Site. She is also a volunteer in a Public Health Core group for a UK-based charity, Cov360. She collaborated with Cov360 to produce a documentary and recorded the crucial work that staff in the Southside Swabbing Site have done to keep our community safe. The video was played earlier on CITV and will be repeated in the coming days. The video can also be seen on Government’s social media pages.

Before I close, I want to spend a few minutes acknowledging the work on the office of the Chief Medical Officer, specifically the work of Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball as she retires from her office on Monday, 31 August.

Dr. Peek-Ball joined the Ministry of Health in 1990 as a Medical Officer with Maternal Health and Family Planning. She became the Senior Medical Officer in 2009 and the Acting CMO and then the substantive CMO from 2012.

I’m sure when Dr. Peek-Ball announced her retirement last year she didn’t expect to face a truly global pandemic, especially since the last was over a hundred years ago.

For those of you who have met Dr. Peek-Ball, she is indeed one of those people you will never forget. She has a calm and reassuring manner with the wisdom and analysis of a scientist. She has provided outstanding guidance and support to the Minister of Health and the Cabinet, and that means she has ably served the country. Her expertise allowed the Cabinet to make informed decisions about movement, how we make sure we restrict the spread of the virus also in regards to our healthcare capacity. I wish to thank her on behalf of a grateful nation. She has served Bermuda with outstanding professionalism and she deserves the break that she will get from next week Monday. Dr. Peek-Ball, thank you.

Dr. Peek-Ball will give her last interview as Bermuda’s Chief Medical Officer on Monday 31 August at 11:30am at which time viewers will meet the incoming CMO Dr. Ayoola Oyinloye. Tune in to Government’s Facebook page and submit your questions. The conversation can also be seen on CITV.

Last week, I stated today would be our last weekly COVID-19 press conference with a number of ministers as the government must move to smaller confines and we want to make sure that we maintain our physical distancing. However the Government has decided it is necessary to continue with regular press conferences to make sure that we provide information the citizens, students, parents, workers and our treasured seniors. School will start in the coming weeks, so we will make some adjustments to the press conference schedule but please note that we will continue to make sure we keep you updated. With that I am happy to take any questions from members of the media at this time.