Bermuda’s Numbers Increase to 17 Positive COVID-19 Cases

GOOD AFTERNOON.

This has been another incredibly busy day for the entire Government team engaged in this pandemic response for Bermuda. Let me begin this press briefing by thanking the people of Bermuda who have taken the time to send messages of support for the work that is being done by your government. These are challenging times and on behalf of my colleagues and myself I wish to truly thank you for your support.

I would also like to take this time to publicly recognise those who step up to the plate and are actually performing their duty as good corporate citizens. Earlier today, I received a letter from the Bermuda International Long Term Insurers and Reinsurer, BILTIR. The BILTIR Board expressed how extremely impressed they were with the leadership and compassion shown by the Bermuda Government during these trying times.

Additionally, BILTIR members support our actions and have been complying with the spirit and letter of Government recommendations and requirements of having their employees work from home. They also indicated, in the letter which was shared with Cabinet that they have made a donation to ongoing efforts to support those in our community who have been negatively affected by this pandemic. I would like to start by thanking BILTIR and the other corporate citizens who are also doing their part. My hope is that all businesses will follow suit.

Health Report

Today the Government of Bermuda received 4 more testing results. Out of the 4 new results, there are 2 additional positive results to be reported today. Contact tracing has just commenced, but here is what we know at this time.

CASE 16 is an imported case; the passenger arrived on Delta Flight DL656 from Atlanta on 15 March 2020. All persons on that flight should continue to monitor their symptoms. Their self-monitoring period ends on Sunday the 29th of March. If you become symptomatic, with a cough or a mild fever, you should contact your health-care provider and inform them that you were on a flight with a confirmed case. Case 17 is currently under investigation and we will provide a further update as quickly as possible.

Port Health Monitoring Number
Self-quarantine with active monitoring 30
Self-quarantine with public health supervision 1481
Self-monitoring with public health supervision 896
COVID-19 Testing
Total 158
Results Pending 35
Results Negative 106
Results Positive 17

(11 imported, 4 close contact, 2 under investigation)

Today, in response to the increase in locally transmitted cases of COVID-19, the Ministry of Health has updated its recommendations regarding social distancing from 3 feet (1 metre) to 6 feet (2 metres) between individuals. The Ministry monitors international guidelines on a daily basis which it reviews alongside the local situation here in Bermuda to ensure residents are given the most appropriate guidance.

On the testing front, I am pleased to report that today the Minster of Health has confirmed that an additional 400 testing kits will be arriving Island on Tuesday. Additionally, I am pleased announce that we are also working with Bermudian geneticist Dr. Carika Weldon on expanding our testing capacity. Her considerable experience and reach into the very areas of research that will benefit us at this time is expected to produce the assistance we need to increase our understanding during this pandemic.

Cabinet Updates

As I indicated yesterday, I chaired a meeting of the Cabinet earlier today and I can advise that the following additional measures have been approved:

  1. Regulations will be enacted under the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1982 to require businesses to have their employees work from home except in certain circumstances, and will be made to take effect from next Tuesday.
  2. Bermuda’s financial services sector will be designated as an essential critical infrastructure;
  3. The Public Health closure Order made by the Minister of Health will remain in place.
  4. Additionally, I have invited His Excellency the Governor to exercise his authority under the Summary Offences Act 1926 to impose a curfew, with exceptions for emergency and uniformed services on duty, between the hours of 8pm and 6am with effect from Sunday, 29th March.

Under the law, those matters can be done three days at a time, and we will review those matters every three days as the situation requires.

These measures are designed to reduce the movement of our people around the Island so that we, as a community, have the best possible opportunity to reduce the risk of community transmission of this virus. I know these changes will be an adjustment to how we live and work but we only need to look across the water to see how important it is that we act, and act now to save lives in this country.

All of this is following the imposition of a stricter regime of enforced social distancing on 23rd March 2020. In the intervening days we have seen:

  1. additional confirmed positive results for persons with Covid19;
  2. a failure on the part of some members of the community to observe the mandated regime inclusive of those under quarantine, and
  3. the growing need to mitigate against community transmission of the virus

It is important to note that:

  1. During the curfew hours there will be no access to Government offices while working remotely continues;
  2. During non-curfew hours people are urged to stay off the roads and at home, save for collection of food supplies and/or medication or in the event of a healthcare emergency;
  3. All rest home visits suspended except as approved by the respective homes and all hospital visits suspended except as approved by the BHB
  4. Essential services will operate with skeleton crews for continuity of service
  5. Food suppliers and grocery stores should adjust their operating hours to comply with the curfew and permit their staff to make it home in good time;

I will now share some outcomes from today’s Emergency Measures Organisation meeting.

Immigration

Out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of all officers, staff of the Department of Immigration, remain out of the Hamilton office. A plan has been prepared for the processing of applications once the Government Offices officially re-open. At this time, no applications are being processed or received.

Visitor’s Extensions

Visitors who require an extension of stay in Bermuda will not be penalized for overstaying. Once the Department officially re-opens, further instructions for requesting an extension of stay will be provided to all affected persons.

Additional information on work permits, passports, and all other applications, during this period can be found on the COVID-19 page on the Government portal – coronavirus.gov.bm.

Employers and work permit holders are reminded that work permit holders cannot work without a work permit, or perform duties outside the scope of their work permit, unless the Minister responsible for Immigration grants approval.

Garbage Collection

After a few challenges earlier in the week with trash collection, the Ministry can report that with the assistance of a number of private trucking firms along with the Corporations of Hamilton and St. George, the normal collection schedule from Tuesday to Friday of this week was closely followed.

As there weren’t as many vehicles to cover the zones as normal, there were a few areas that were missed.  However, once calls were received notifying the Ministry of these missed locations, vehicles were sent back specifically to attend to those areas.

The Ministry of Public Works would like to thank the public for their patience this week and advise the normal collection schedule is expected to resume on Monday March 30th.  The Ministry would encourage residents to place their garbage out on their assigned day only and NOT before.

The Hamilton Dock is operating as normal

Cargo Operations from this week are as follows;

419 containers were unloaded from this weeks’ cargo ships. There are 391 containers left on the dock for retailer and wholesaler businesses. Shipping lines report normal operations at east coast ports of call.

The Airport

As of March 30th, cargo jet arrivals will be three days per week as opposed to five days per week. However, the DHL has provided 2 planes which means we will still have 5 day per week air cargo service.

Temporary KEMH Bus Service

In support of the Bermuda Hospitals Board healthcare workers, effective Sunday 29 March 2020, the Department of Public Transportation will provide a daily bus service for employees commuting to and from the King Edward Memorial Hospital. This temporary service will support five shifts throughout the day.

The initial schedule will service routes 1, 3, 6, 7, 8 & 11. The schedule is being finalized today and will be published thereafter. This service will be limited to employees displaying BHB ID only and Royal Bermuda Regiment soldiers will support with validating passengers, social distancing and onboard hygiene. This service will operate until the public bus service resumes its normal operations.

Unemployment Assistance

As of noon today 1,000 applications have been made. In addition, we have received 96 hard copy applications.

The team at the Department of Workforce Development is reviewing the applications received and will process approved applications for payment next week

Community Support

Food distribution points over and above what is currently provided for the community outreach programs are being finalized.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, a group of Third Sector stakeholders are working with the Ministry of Public Works, to galvanise and coordinate resources to meet those most in need. The group have identified critical non-profits and organisations providing community support with shelter, food, and other essential resources, such as mental health counselling.

Through the support of the Bermuda Health Council, who designed an on-line survey, they will be capturing specific critical needs. Having determined the needs, the search is now on to assemble the resources to meet those needs. I am gratified by the community partners that have already stated that they will assist and step. I want to remind persons that if you want to volunteer your services, you are welcome to call the COVID-19 Hotline (444.2498 – every day between 9am and 9pm). Also, if you are in need and finding yourself have problems coping with this particular situation, you’re also welcome to call that number.

You can get further details on this initiative on coronavirus.gov.bm.

In addition, the Bermuda Community Foundation has set up an emergency fund to assist those persons need. Monetary donations can be made on the following web-site – www.bcf.bm.

I want to make reference to something that happened earlier today. We had an unfortunate incident where persons decided to send around voice note and voice messages which were being forwarded and contributed to unnecessary panic in our community.

I am going to remind everyone that if it is something that is official, coming out of the Government of Bermuda, the first place that you will find out about it is not going to be on WhatsApp saying that ‘they don’t know if this is true’. It will be announced from this podium, or by a press release or in another way from the Government.

I urge persons, whether they be persons inside the community and/or our seniors, to not forward these messages as these messages could be intentionally done to try to provoke panic or to put persons is a bad situation, such as a large amount of seniors who are not able to keep social distancing protocols standing outside for long periods of time for no reason what so ever. The Government of Bermuda is not going to take actions which are going to cause members of our community to starve. We are not going to shut down anything without notice or at least letting people know, giving adequate time to prepare. That is what we have done thus far and that is what we will continue to do. So the most important thing, during this situation, is to make sure to remain calm and to listen to the advice which is coming from the Government of Bermuda.

We must have unity

Bermuda, these are difficult times. Our community is anxious; people are concerned, our resources are being challenged like never before, and what lies ahead is uncertain. As I have said repeatedly, my guiding theme is unity during this crisis. Everyone doing their part, helping to make a difference in the best interest of everyone in Bermuda.

The circumstances that we find ourselves in are less than ideal, especially for those of us who must continue to go to work daily. I am encouraged and grateful for our frontline heroes who provide critical services to people who need them. I am also thankful to those who are not on the frontline but have a part to play during this crises, and are helping to make a difference.

Regarding the issue of essential services and other critical government services that are currently needed, many public officers are providing services that are important to our community and necessary during this particularly challenging time. There are areas required to maintain administrative functions and operations that aren’t necessarily essential services but are critical to the functioning of the Government.

Whether an essential or critical Government service, it is vital, in the best interest of our country, that we all recognise the role we play to help during this crisis. And to be clear, when I encouraged employees to stay at home if you do not have to be at work, I was not referring to those public officers who are required to provide critical Government services. As public officers, we must take our responsibilities seriously, and remain united as we put the needs of people who need us ahead of our own.

Conclusion

In the 32 months that I have been privileged to hold this office, I have seen how the best of Bermuda rises to the challenges that may come. We have faced economic threats and natural disaster and now we have a global pandemic at our doorstep. The formula for emerging better and stronger on the other side of each of these challenges is the same: unity. We each have a part to play and there is no room for thinking “this isn’t my problem”. It is; it is for all of us to do our part to prevent this global event from overrunning our healthcare system and so fundamentally impacting our society that what we see on the Internet becomes our reality.

This is the beginning of the weekend, when we ordinarily take a break from the work week and spend time with our families. We cook and laugh together; we plan for the week to come and in this spring weather we get to some chores around the house that the cold winter made us put off. This weekend should be no different, because all those things can be done right at home and will allow us to reconnect with each other and those we hold dear.

For some people this is the time for communal worship. Whatever your spiritual beliefs or method of worship, do this too in your own homes. Pastors across Bermuda have found ways to preserve the spiritual connection with their congregations and this is to be commended. Give thanks at home; be prayerful at home, and connect to your God from home.

As you do so, and even if you don’t, spare a thought for the men and women in healthcare and our unformed services who cannot enjoy the safety of home at this time but must leave home to serve us and keep us safe. I wish to close by thanking them for all that they have done and continue to do in what is doubly trying for them and their families.

Thank you