BERMUDA GOVERNMENT PRESS CONFERENCE COVID-19 UPDATE NOVEMBER 17, 2020

 17 November Press Conference

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

Good evening Bermuda, and welcome members of the media who have joined us here at A. B. Place this evening.

I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson who will be providing an update to the public on the latest from her Ministry including changes to our rules surrounding travel to the island. Following that I will give an update on matters related to our border opening and training opportunities that are available to Bermudians so that they may reenter the workplace. First the Minister of Health. Minister.

Good Evening Members of the Media,

Yesterday, there were 1,483 test results received by the Ministry of Health, and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda has had 223 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 20 active cases, who are
  • all under public health monitoring, and
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care;
  • a total of 194 have recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 54 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 7 to 101 years.

The average age of all deceased cases is 74 and the age range is 57 to 91 years.

Overall, 46% of cases were Black, 47% White and 7% other/unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 111 are Imported
  • 91 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 21 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • none are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status is “Sporadic Cases.” The seven-day average of our real time reproduction number is less than 1.

It is anticipated that in the near future, arriving visitors will have to secure a negative PCR pre-departure test that is no older than 5 days prior to arrival in Bermuda.

Right now, the period for that test is no more than 7 days before departing. However, as the availability of pre-departure testing has improved and the number of imported positive COVID-19 cases has slowly increased, we have decided this is an appropriate change to make at this time – but we will continue to evaluate this protocol on a regular basis and adjust as necessary.

With those students that are studying overseas more likely to come home this month and next to visit family and friends, vigilance around returning travellers – and compliance with the mobile quarantine provisions in effect – is especially important.

I want to re-emphasise that mobile quarantine requires that a resident or visitor with negative COVID-19 PCR pre-departure and arrival test results must still test on Day 4 and Day 8. Likewise, a resident or visitor with a negative Day 8 COVID-19 PCR test result must still test on Day 14.

As the Minister of Health, I remain concerned that some travellers believe that two negative tests means “we’re fine; we can do anything.” To be clear – that is not the case. There are restrictions that apply to returning residents and visitors regarding their movements and activities, until they have a negative Day 14 test result.

For example, a traveller with a negative pre-departure test and negative arrival test can dine outdoors but not indoors, and cannot visit a bar or nightclub.

After a negative test result on Day 8, a traveller can dine indoors but cannot play a contact sport even if it is played outdoors. That person also cannot attend a large event such as a wedding.

Our community is protected only when everyone does their part and plays by the rules.

Stay safe, Bermuda, and, remember, I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Wilson.

I appreciate the work that continues to be done by your team at the <inistry of Health. Given the greater availability and speed of testing overseas it is reasonable that we adjust the time allowed for pre-tests prior to arrival on island down from seven days to five days. It is important to note that the Government of Bermuda is finalizing, through the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Health, is working on an agreement with a nationwide chain in the United States to provide for additional testing options for travelers who may be coming to Bermuda.

It is important to note that 40% of our imported cases have pre-tests on day 6 and day 7.

The tourism industry recognises the need for this change, and it is important to note that Bermuda still offers more flexibility than a number of other jurisdictions who require a negative pre-test within 72 hours of departure. These changes are necessary as globally we’ve seen an alarming rise in coronavirus cases.

This increase in cases globally was also seen locally as we witnessed a spike in imported cases over the last four weeks, with our 7 day daily average of new cases hitting numbers not seen since the spring.

While there has been this increase in imported cases, it is worthwhile to provide data and context so residents can better understand the reality of our management of this virus on our borders.

However, before I provide those statistics, I must say that although I have said so previously, it is worth repeating that our Public Health Officers at the airport are doing a tremendous job. They are accurate, thorough, and fully immersed in their role; and we are very fortunate to have such a dedicated team on the frontline of our fight against the coronavirus, and every resident should be grateful and proud of their diligence.

The airport reopened to scheduled commercial flights on 1 July, and the latest analysis considers data between 1 July and 12 November. The assessment provides an accurate picture of the number of cases, the source of the increase, and informs any changes in travel policies for the country.

Since July, 24,000 passengers have arrived at the airport and only 66 of those 24,000 passengers tested positive for the coronavirus on or after arrival; that means just over one quarter of one percent (0.27%) of arriving passengers were infected or became infected with the coronavirus. Just breaking that down on a month by month basis:

  • in July, the positivity rated was 0.36%;
  • in August, it fell to 0.17%;
  • in September, the positivity rate hit its lowest level measuring at 0.13%;
  • in October the positivity rate tripled the amount that it was in September measuring in at 0.39%;
  • And as of last Thursday, 12 November, the positivity rate for November was tracking at 0.38% – though that number would have come slightly as there has only been one positive case that have been reported in the last five days.

While 66 infections is a large number for our small country, it is important to note that these are all imported cases – the 66 of them are all imported cases – and our stringent testing programme catches almost all cases.

It is also important to note that the positivity rate that we observed in October is almost the same as what we observed in July. There were less cases as few people were travelling. However the positivity rate of .36 in July is just a bit lower than the positivity rate of .39 in October.

What we have seen, which has been different, is an increase of travellers testing positive on day 4 and day 8. Which some will assume, that means individuals possibly are contracting the virus at some point in time during their travel. Not necessarily on the airport but possibly before the airport or after their tests and before the board the airline.

This is why, as the Minster of Health has said, it is essential that travellers observe the Mobile Quarantine rules. The Minister of Health outlined the restrictions, making sure they maintain physical distance and not going indoors with large gatherings until they are permitted to do so.

Like every protocol, the Mobile Quarantine policy was established to strike a balance. It accounts for a situation where, given previous negative tests, someone will likely test negative on their tests after their negative arrival test; but there’s still a possibility that they may be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. Therefore it is important that all that can be done by these travelers to minimise the possible transmission of the virus.

The information about Mobile Quarantine, is distributed to all arriving passengers at the airport, so every arriving passenger is aware. However, for those who need further information, there is a Tips for Mobile Quarantine flyer that can be easily found on the website coronavirus.gov.bm.

Our most effective weapon in the fight against the coronavirus is Bermudians remaining vigilant and continuing to follow protocols. We all know what it is: wearing the mask, good hand hygiene, and maintaining physical distancing.

While some may question the need to continue to be so wary, and I’ve seen a few persons who keep on speaking about there are so few cases why do we have to keep on doing this? It is just a reminder that it’s a Catch-22, it’s a chicken and the egg. The reason why there are so few cases is because we continue to do this and if we stop doing this, then we will see what is happening in other places where they do not have the strict rules that we have here in Bermuda.

For all of our successes at the airport with arriving passengers, the Government has been alerted to several gatherings, social events, and other functions where attendees have been indoors and have not been adhering to the protocols.

I have said that repeatedly every week, this is not the time to get complacent and this is not the time to slack off. I certainly understand COVID fatigue. I get it, I get tired of wearing a mask as well. It is not fun to continue to maintain physical distancing. I actually got in trouble at the supermarket the other day, as I forgot to wait behind the line and someone reminded me. That’s the challenge that we have.

But here is what I want to remind everyone, that we cannot, especially at this time, where we see an increase in imported cases, tests on day 4 and day 8 and what is happening all around us with the coronavirus to get weary.

We have an enviable record, and the only way we are going to maintain that enviable record, maintain our record of almost no local transmission is to continue to follow the protocols, as it only take one person, or one couple to infect others at a gathering and lead us back to a place of restrictions like we are seeing in so many other countries.

I have said in the past, that many Bermudians are facing a very difficult and uncertain time. Many are unemployed and need additional financial support. For some more than one person in the household is unemployed and they don’t know where they will find funds for everyday necessities. I want to remind all Bermudians, that there is help available. We have said on numerous occasions that this Government will not let people go hungry during this pandemic. If you need help, contact the Department of Financial Assistance, as there are processes in place to ensure you get you receive the support that you need.

The uncertainty of not having a job, the stress of worrying about the coronavirus, and the significant changes that have taken place this year alone, have created a great deal of stress, leaving many feeling anxious, depressed and in some cases extremely isolated.

If you are experiencing any of these feelings, please please reach out and get some help. There are professionals available who are able to hear your concerns and help you to deal with the feelings you may be having. The phone number is 543 1111. I’ll repeat – 543 1111. Professionals are on the line able to answer and speak to you and make sure you take care of your mental health.

I now wish to address the reality that some people are facing about their prospects for future employment. We did speak about the funds which were made available for Financial Assistance.

But as we all know, Bermudians are working people and we have survived for well over 400 years in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean because we are hardworking, creative and industrious. I believe that part of our DNA means Bermudians want to work, and not be supported by the government.

Accordingly, the Minister for Labour recently announced the Government has added 40 occupations to the closed category for work permits. That means there are 40 jobs and careers where work permit applications will not even be entertained to ensure that Bermudians who have been laid off can find their way back to work.

I also wish to speak about job training programmes that are on offer at the Department of Workforce Development; particularly as the deadlines to sign up for the courses are quickly approaching.

The Department is offering training courses in: Computer Literacy, Administrative Assistant, Certified Cleaning Technician, Hospitality (Food & Beverage), Digital Literacy, Landscape Gardening, and they are also running a graduate training programme for recent college graduates.

For people who wish to begin or enhance their computer skills the Department is offering a Computer Literacy Course that will give participants access to over 300 courses that are geared to produce proficiency in Microsoft Office software, and the Microsoft Windows platform. The deadline to apply for that course is 27 November.

In partnership with the BEDC, the Department is also offering an Administrative Assistant course that is ideal for those who may currently have low-skilled jobs that do not pay them enough for them to meet responsibilities; or people who have lost employment. Participants will learn the skills, and duties of a 21st century Administrative Professional. The deadline to apply for that course is also 27 November.

These days, companies, organisations, and other venues are far more aware of the need to disinfect and sanitize areas, and the need for overall cleanliness, especially in light of the pandemic. Accordingly, the Department is offering a course entitled Accredited Cleaning Technician. While there are many after-hours jobs that are tidying, for people who graduate from this course persons, upon graduation, will be certified for a career and the deadline to apply is 27 November.

In another valuable partnership, the Department and the Bermuda Tourism Authority are offering the Learn to Earn hospitality course that is ideal for those who wish to enter the Food and Beverage Industry. The course will teach skills and provide a solid foundation, as well as practical on-the-job training. The registration deadlines are 27 November.

For those who have rudimentary computer skills but need to enhance their skills in the digital realm, the Department is also offering a Digital Literacy Course. This course will teach participants about the Office 365 suite of software. The course will also provide an element of job readiness to assist course graduates to attain greater employment opportunities. The deadline to apply is the 27 November.

Landscape gardening is one industry where we have a large amount of guest workers. It may be because while most Bermudians have cut grass in their youth (and perhaps their adulthood), gardening is a far more serious endeavour. Knowing trees, plants, shrubs, their seasonality, and other elements will be taught. Those who prefer to be outdoors, or those who want to enhance their skillset from cutting to designing and planting, will greatly benefit from the Department’s Landscape Gardener course. That deadline to apply is also the 27 November.

And finally, for university or college graduates who have not been able to find full time employment, the department is running a graduate trainee programme. This initiative will match graduates with opportunities within their chosen field or industry. They will gain benefits from experts in their field, build a personal brand, and find out what it takes to thrive. The deadline to apply for that in next week Monday 23 November.

Whether you require financial assistance or retraining due to redundancy or other downturn in your industry, the Government is providing avenues for Bermudians to restore the personal pride and dignity that comes from working and earning a wage.

This Government is working and doing all we can to keep Bermudians safe and employed during these unprecedented times. The Department of Workforce Development, the Department of Financial Assistance, and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, are all working to aid employment. Government departments and agencies will continue to work together to develop programmes that will attract new business to our shores and find ways to diversify our economy. While we train Bermudians for employment opportunities while they are developed. That ends my update for today.