BERMUDA GOVERNMENT PRESS CONFERENCE COVID-19 UPDATE OCTOBER 6, 2020

COVID-19 update – 6 October

Good afternoon Bermuda and welcome members of the media her today.

I am honoured to sit here again this week following last week’s General Election. I am joined at our weekly COVID update by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will provide an update from her Ministry. Following her update I will touch on a few matters before we take questions from members of the media.

Today there were 347 test results received by the Ministry of Health, and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda now has 181 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • 170 have recovered, and
  • there are 2 active cases, who are
  • all under 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 56 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 9 to 101 years.

Overall, 51% of cases were Black, 42% White and 7% other/unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

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

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

At last week’s press conference I responded to a media question regarding how we can safely partake in Halloween festivities this year. Today, I wish to elaborate further on my response and advise that local guidance has been created, based on CDC recommendations, and has been posted to Government’s social media accounts. It places various Halloween activities into three risk groups – either high-risk, medium-risk or low-risk and I will share them with you now…

Some low-risk activities which you can do safely this year include:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household;
  • Decorating your house;
  • A virtual Halloween costume contest;
  • A Halloween movie night with people you live with;
  • And a trick-or-treat hunt with your household members in or around your own home.

Meanwhile, moderate-risk activities which you should do only if you can do them safely are:

  • One-way trick-or-treating where individually-wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go – such as at the end of a driveway. (Note that you should wash your hands before preparing goodie bags);
  • A small outdoor costume parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart;
  • A costume party held outdoors where masks are used (costume masks do not count) and people can remain more than 6 feet apart;
  • Visiting pumpkin patches where the use of hand sanitizer, mask-wearing and physical distancing is enforced;
  • And having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least 6 feet apart.

And, finally, high-risk activities that you should definitely NOT do this year are as follows:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door;
  • Crowded costume parties held indoors;
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and shouting or screaming; and
  • any activity congregating densely with people who are not in your household.

It certainly brings me no joy to discourage our usual Halloween activities this year. I know Halloween is a time which many of our children look forward to and a big part of that is traditional trick-or-treating. But I ask you to imagine the contact tracing hurdles that would arise if just one industrious trick-or-treater was COVID-19 positive. It’s not worth the risk.

This pandemic has certainly not been easy for any of us; perhaps least of all our children. Birthday parties have been put on hold, celebrations cancelled, trips postponed, everyone is suddenly now wearing a mask…It can be a confusing time for our children.

But we must continue to follow the guidance. I know it is tempting and I feel like the biggest Buzz Kill standing up here each week…but we must.

Our numbers are low because we have been so good at following government advice to this point. We need to keep going. As I have said before, this is not forever. Please, Bermuda, just hang in there for a while longer. As winter approaches and countries are seeing their second wave begin we cannot afford to let our guard down now.

Before I conclude this evening, I want to issue a reminder to travellers: Both visitors and residents must apply for a Bermuda COVID-19 Travel Authorisation when travelling to Bermuda. Travel Authorisations can be booked 1 to 3 days before departure and must be pre-vetted. Please do NOT wait until the day of travel to book your Travel Authorisation!  Travel Authorisation applications are vetted between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily. For more information, please call the COVID-19 Helpline on 444-2498.

Also, finally, a note to employers – thank you to the majority of you who are following the Return to Work Guidance as best as possible. I understand that the reconfiguring of office spaces and schedules has not been easy. I also know that many of you want to go back to “normal”, pre-COVID-19 times….And that while you are instituting safe practices at work (such as mask-wearing and physical distancing), please bear in mind that if your employees can work from home or on a rotational schedule that is still the preferable situation. Remember a close contact in an office space, would be within 6 feet of someone even while wearing a mask, for more than 15 minutes. Consider what would happen if one of your team members is a close contact of a positive person and your entire team must quarantine, effectively meaning you lose your whole staff.

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

Minister Wilson.

Thank you Minister of Health.

Looking back on the recently held General Election, on behalf of the entire country, I wholeheartedly commend the Parliamentary Registrar, Ms. Tenia Woolridge, for surpassing her office’s usual high standards to meet unprecedented circumstances.

While it may be tempting to focus on the results, the Registrar is truly an unsung heroine, who quietly, but masterfully, goes about her duties and obligations to Bermudian voters to ensure elections are beyond reproach, accurate and fair. I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to her and to her entire team at the Parliamentary Registrar’s Office.

I know how people and certain roles can be taken for granted, so I wish to note a few of the developments that were undertaken for the first time last week.

First, of course, there was, in the election, the opportunity to vote in the Advanced Poll was extended to all seniors, allowing a greater share of voters to exercise their constitutional rights without the worry of exposure to large crowds.

Second, the Registrar’s Returning Officers availed themselves of testing in order to carry out their vital public service; and they had to be trained on COVID-19 protocols, and new election rules.

Third, in partnership with Vision Bermuda the Registrar successfully introduced Tactile Audio Devices; machines that gave visually impaired voters privacy for the first time by allowing them to vote without someone watching them mark their ballots.

I know there are further accomplishments for which the Registrar and her team deserve credit; Ms. Woolridge marshaled her staff and they more than rose to the occasion – accordingly, I applaud everyone involved in producing and managing what was a safe, fair, and very efficient election.

When it comes to coronavirus related matters that have a direct impact on Bermudians, there is an issue that has recently arisen where the State of New York recently included Bermuda on a list of countries from which arriving passengers would have to quarantine on arrival.

It is well known that Bermuda boasts a testing regime that tests the most amount of persons per capita, currently and we are now, I think, fifth or sixth in the world in testing per capita, more than most countries on the planet and has extremely stringent requirements to be able to enter Bermuda. So we certainly do not agree with the new designation which has been put inside of the state of New York. Especially when we are only showing two active cases.

Technically, the list is derived by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the CDC list which deems Bermuda a Level 2 COVID-19 risk – meaning the risk in Bermuda is moderate, and new cases are decreasing or stable.

To further apply context, the UK Government’s current advice about Bermuda is,

“Bermuda is exempt from the Foreign, Commonwealth, Development advice against all non-essential international travel. This is based on the current assessment of risks.”

We are grateful for the reasonable position that the United Kingdom has adopted; and we are working to seek a modification of the CDC advice, (before they had us at Level 3, now they have us at Level 2, which is causing some issues with travel to New York, so we are looking to see if we can get that further modified) to ensure that its guidance reflects the reality in Bermuda, and even more tourists feel safe travelling and visiting our island.

As a result of the issue when it comes to safety, I am would like to provide you with three statistics that in a snapshot, reveal the state of the tourism industry, as we stand and where people consider it safe.

  • First, as would be expected, health and safety is the second most popular reason tourists are coming to Bermuda; beaches are still number one. However, with not many people travelling due to COVID-19, but it is logical that their primary consideration would be their health and safety;
  • Second, this is of local residents, in May, 50% of residents thought welcoming air passengers would pose a considerable risk to Bermuda’s health; now that number is only 12%, which recognizes that Bermudians have recognized that we can open our airport safely and have our tourists travel to Bermuda safely with excellent controls; finally
  • 97% of tourists who have come to Bermuda since we reopened the airport, to regularly scheduled commercial traffic, have felt safe or completely safe during their trip.

We have built on our COVID-19 protocols and testing regime by telling the world that we are open, and we are providing a safe destination for persons to visit, as long as they follow the rules. As a result of the consistent work, that we have all done together, our tourism outlook for the fall is looking far more attractive than we anticipated a few months ago, and there will be a number of events that will be held in Bermuda.

On the 24 October, Bermuda will host the Rugby World Tens Series;

On the 25 October, the Bermuda Gold Cup Sailing event that was recently designated a ‘Match Racing World Championship Event’ will begin; and

On the 26 October, the PGA Tours’ Bermuda Championship will begin, and live spectators will be in attendance. This is the very first PGA Tour event to be contested in front of live spectators since the beginning of the pandemic. And yes, it is happening right here in beautiful and safe Bermuda.

Most Bermudians are aware of the economic importance of our tourism sector, and given the wider impact when visitors hire taxis, dine out, visit attractions, or rent vacation properties. The difficult but steady recovery in that industry will positively affect business owners, employees, and entrepreneurs alike. That is why is it vital for us to continue to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission by following the advice from the Minister of Health, as un-fun as it can be, no one wants us see what is happening in other jurisdictions, where things are being rolled back.

Before I close, I would like to speak to some of the economic challenges that will be buffeting our island over the coming months and years.

I have to say this before I close. Things will get worse in the Bermuda economy before they get better. And though we have been able to reopen our tourism industry to a small extent, though our international business industry is functioning well, there will be challenges inside of our economy. There are persons who are being laid off, and we do note, that there are persons being made redundant, our job as a newly elected government will be to take the best ideas and to work to accelerate our economic recovery. The one thing that I want all of  Bermuda to know is there has never been before been a time like now that we have to continue to unify ourselves, to look out for our neighbours and to avail ourselves to the services that are being made available from the Government of Bermuda.

Before the election, I said that this Government would not stand by while people go hungry. After the election, our pledge is still the same. However, the times will get tough and it is important for us to remember that we are our brothers’ keeper and we have to continue to remain unified through the challenges ahead.

On Thursday, I will visit Government House to swear in a new Cabinet and the new Government will certainly address you next week as there are a number of economic matters that need to be spoken to for the public, so we can understand where we are, where we are going and how every can pitch in to help. With that, I’m happy to answer any questions from members of the media.