June 16th Bermuda Government

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update

Good evening Bermuda.

I’m joined at today’s press conference by the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, who will give an update on the continued work of the Ministry of Health in battling COVID-19. We also have the Minister of National Security, Wayne Caines, who will discuss the murder and other acts of violence which took place this weekend.

Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson will discuss the island’s financial response to COVID-19 and plan for our economy. I also welcome the newly appointed Minister of Labour, Jason Hayward, who will update us on the unemployment insurance benefits, and the work of his newly created Ministry of Labour, ensuring that we protect the rights of Bermudians in the workplace.

This holiday weekend, where we remember the contributions of our national heroes, was a distressing time for many in Bermuda. The actions of few have changed the lives of family and friends who lost a loved one, through the senseless death of a 22 year old Bermudian. On behalf of the government and of the people of Bermuda, I extend our condolences to his family and to his friends.

The Minister of Health will now provide an update on the testing which took place over the weekend against the backdrop of more confirmed cases which reported on Saturday. Minister.

MINISTER OF HEALTH STATEMENT.

Good Afternoon,

Between Sunday and today there were 528 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda continues to have 144 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 7 active cases, of which
  • all are under active public health monitoring, and
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care.
  • A total of 128 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 61 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

Overall, 56% of all cases are Black, 41% are white and 3% are other or unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 41 are Imported
  • 85 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 12 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 6 are under investigation

I can also provide a brief line of update regarding the COVID-19 “saliva tests”: These have now been shipped and should be on-island shortly.

At Thursday’s press conference, I announced that the Ministry of Health has rolled out a pop-up testing programme to make testing more accessible to the public, through pop-up testing sites at various MarketPlace and City Centre locations; with more to be announced over the coming weeks.

We understand the value of taking services to the people, as we have used this approach very successfully with our annual Flu Express and Taking it to the Streets initiatives, which get public health to where the people are.

I can tell you that since launching the pop-up testing, over 500 people have taken advantage of the initiative. I am extremely impressed by the public’s interest in getting tested and hope that enthusiasm continues. Remember – the more we test, the better we will contain and control COVID-19.

In order to ensure that wait times at pop-up testing venues are as minimal as possible, I would encourage residents wishing to get tested, to please book an appointment. It can literally take five minutes for two people to get tested if you pre-book.

You can book online via the government website coronavirus.gov.bm or call the COVID-19 hotline 444-2498 between 9am and 9pm and one of our helpful telephone operators will be happy to make a reservation for you. A full schedule of testing days and times has been posted to the Government website.

Other convenient pop-up locations around the island  this week are:

  • Wednesday- Anglican Cathedral – 10am to 2 pm
  • Thursday – Anglican Cathedral – 10am to 2 pm & Heron Bay MarketPlace 2pm – 7pm
  • Friday – Anglican Cathedral – 9am to 1pm , 3pm – 7pm & Shelly Bay MarketPlace 3pm – 7pm
  • Saturday- Somerset MarketPlace 3pm to 7pm
  • Sunday – Shelly Bay MarketPlace- 12pm – 5pm

For more information about pop-up testing, you can call 444-2498.

Also, if you are a large company with over 30 employees, the Ministry of Health can arrange for pop-up testing to come to your workplace. For more information on this call 444-2498.

As we move through Phase 3, I feel I must remind people that this is not the green light to abandon those habits which have stood us in such good stead in the fight against COVID-19 so far – namely, mask-wearing and physical distancing. Over the past few days we have noticed a slip in those good behaviours. This is irresponsible, dangerous and could have the potential to set us back we move towards the safe reopening of Bermuda. We all want to get to Phase 4… and beyond. But this will NOT happen if we see a rise in cases of COVID-19… something which WILL happen if we do not wear our masks and practice physical distancing.

Also, we are encouraging people to log onto HealthIQ.bm to tell us how you’re feeling and what you’re seeing in the community in terms of protective measures being taken. Your information is confidential and will help us greatly as we transition through the phases. Over 7,000 people have registered so far. We need 10,000 to get this reopening indicator to a ‘green light’ on the scoreboard.

Finally, today I want to draw your attention to some of our Phase 3 Guidance which has been recently created and posted to the Government website: coronavirus.gov.bm.

In particular, I want to go over some of the points from the Re-Opening Directions for Movie Theatres, Theatres, Museums, Libraries and Similar Places of Public Entertainment.

These types of establishments should rigorously follow the practices specified in those protocols which include:

  • Utilizing remote ticketing options;
  • Adjusting screening times/opening hours to allow time for enhanced cleaning and disinfection;
  • Warning clients upon booking not to come to the facility if they have any COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Ensuring proper physical distancing to allow 6 feet between patrons in the venue;
  • Ensuring that all employees and customers wear cloth face coverings (exceptions for children under 2);
  • Regularly and frequently cleaning and disinfecting any regularly touched surfaces. This includes disinfecting seats and frequently touched areas and surfaces between screenings, events or groups;
  • Making hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available to employees and customers upon entry and at suitable locations;
  • Placing readily visible signs at the venue to remind everyone of best hygiene practices;
  • Restricting access to restrooms to allow appropriate physical distancing;
  • Keeping at least two empty seats (or six feet separation) between parties in any row. Additionally, there should be alternate rows between customers, so that every other row is left empty. However, two or more members of the same household can sit next to one another, with two seats empty (or six feet separation) on either side. Also, two individuals who are not members of the same household but who are attending together can sit next to one another, with two seats (or six feet separation) empty on either side.

There are also various rules for these types of venues who also provide food service for patrons. These can be also found within this guidance; as can the specific health protocols which should be taken by employees of these establishments.

Lastly, I would like to remind the public that tomorrow, Wednesday 17th June there will be a Facebook Live session with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Cheryl Peek-Ball, and BHB’s Chief of Medicine, Dr Michael Ashton at 2pm. I invite and encourage everyone to log on to learn more and submit any questions you may have in advance or during the live broadcast via the Government facebook page.

Thank You, Bermuda, and, please, wear your mask and keep six feet apart if you are not wearing on

Thank you Minister of Health.

The news of no new cases, following days of testing is certainly welcome news. However, it is important and a reminder that we must continue to keep our guard up by wearing our masks, and maintaining our physical distance when out in public and socializing. Everything we have done thus far, must continue. Whether that is washing your hands, good cough hygiene, or the utilization of hand sanitizer. These are all public health measures that will help us continue to keep this virus at bay.

The pop-up testing locations have proven to be extremely popular and I encourage everyone to visit coronavirus.gov.bm to get the details and locations and times, and to book an appointment to get tested today. Even though she’s going to upset with me for saying it, even my mom, went to get tested today, and she commented and said ‘it wasn’t as bad as I thought’, because it is not as bad as you may think.

During phase 3B, which will commence, on Thursday, the full range of personal care services will become available. This includes the grooming of beards, waxing services and massages. As stated last week, public health guidelines will provide for the frequency of tests for personal care service providers, engaged in high risk activities which to date have not been allowed.

For providers of those services, who got tested this weekend, including my barber, I, and other clients look forward to seeing you later this week. Those who have not yet been tested, please visit coronavirus.gov.bm to book an appointment so you can keep yourselves, your clients and Bermuda safe. With that Minister Caines will now give his update this evening to the country. Minister.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY STATEMENT

(Awaiting for the statement to be released)

Thank you Minister Caines. We are joined by the Police Commissioner this evening, who is also on hand to answer any questions, which we may have afterwards.

The events this weekend serve to remind us that the work is never ending if we are to address the root causes of the violence and anti-social behaviour in our community. These are systemic issues that require a targeted and deliberate approach.

The government’s increased investments in education, training, mental health, and programmes like Redemption Farms, as well as new programmes for those people who have aged out of the Department of Child and Family Services will be continued. Because it is through these programmes, and our focus on dismantling systemic racism that we will effect the change we need to see in our young people.

As we move through each phase, our goal was to make sure that we open our economy safely, and at the same time put Bermudians back to work. The Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson, will give details around the work necessary to support those in Bermuda financially, and also his efforts in reinvigorating the Bermuda economy. Minister Dickinson.

MINISTER OF FINANCE STATEMENT

(Awaiting for the statement to be released)

Thank you Minister of Finance. As you have shared, there’s much work going on to provide relief to Bermudians and to Bermuda’s businesses that are battling the economic impacts of this pandemic.

As I’ve said over the past few weeks, employers who are reopening their businesses must put Bermudians first. Likewise Bermudians who are asked to return to work should do so, and should not be collecting unemployment benefits. It is not appropriate for employers to deny work to Bermudians, and if we learn of instances where Bermudians have refused to return to work in order to continue to receive the unemployment benefit, this behaviour will be addressed appropriately.

I now welcome the Minister of Labour to the podium to provide his first update to the country since his appointment. Minister Hayward.

MINISTER OF LABOUR STATEMENT

Good Evening,

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses across the island were forced to close their doors, since which many businesses have reopened.

As a result of these closures, through the period of Shelter-In-Place, over 9,800 individuals were out of work and many millions of dollars have been paid out in benefits from the unemployment fund.

Although all sectors were hit hard with large numbers of persons unemployed, some sectors were hit particularly hard.  The top five largest job losses during Shelter-In-Place are as follows:

  1. Restaurants with 1815;
  2. Hotels with 1345;
  3. Construction with 1256;
  4. Retail with 991; and
  5. Small business with 921. 

As the economy has slowly reopened, many persons have been reemployed. As of the most recent update, a total of 3,577 individuals have returned to work.

The numbers of reemployed is great news for Bermuda. However, with this good news, the Government has also received reports of inequitable employment practices happening in our country.  From 30 March to 5 June 2020, I can report that the Labour Relations Section has received 409 labour related queries.

In some instances, there are reports that employers may be discriminating against Bermudians.

I can confirm that of the total of these queries received, 14 are related to Work Permit holders being retained or recalled to work over Bermudian workers.

I will break these 14 queries down into further details:

  • Ten were public observations/general queries;
  • One was referred to the Department of Immigration;
  • One was investigated with no further action taken;
  • Two others were received, one of which is currently under investigation.

While we strongly believe the majority of businesses are treating Bermudians fairly, there may be a few employers that will discriminate against Bermudians.  If this practice is occurring, I ask those responsible stop immediately.

As we seek to further open up our economy for business, we urge employers to ensure that Bermudians are given equitable treatment.

It must be noted that employment practices in response to the pandemic have not been uniform across all sectors. For example, it is understood that employees in the International Business sector have largely remained employed and continued to work remotely. Other businesses have experienced similar success and we thank them for their efforts to keep their staff employed.

The Premier recently announced that Cabinet agreed to extend the Unemployment Benefit Program for another month to support our people and provide them with an added layer of security, as businesses reopen and our economy begins to move again.

To assist employees which were laid off, terminated, or made redundant as a result of COVID-19, the unemployment benefit was introduced. The unemployment benefit came into effect on the 24th of March 2020 and the application period will end on the 30th of June 2020.

The unemployment benefit provides a weekly benefit of up to $500 to eligible persons, including work permit holders, for up to 12 weeks.

The Government will extend these benefits, but not the application deadline, to allow persons to receive further support while the country moves towards the new normal with the gradual re-opening of the economy during phase 4.

Additionally, following engagement with industry associations, the Government will also table legislation this week to amend the Employment Act 2000.  The legislation will amend the portion of the Act with respect to lay off, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the state of emergency.

The change will exclude the period from 1 April to 30 June 2020 from the calculation of the period of four months, after which a lay off is deemed to be a termination for redundancy.

The existing provisions of the Employment Act would then apply for severance pay for those employees not recalled at the end of the four-month period starting from 30th of June 2020.

The purpose of this amendment is to protect both employees and employers in these unprecedented times.  In the face of the global pandemic, employees should not lose their benefit entitlement of redundancy pay under the Act.  This must be protected.

On the other hand, employers with little or no cash, and significantly lower revenues due to the pandemic, should not be forced into bankruptcy by paying these benefits.  A compromise must be reached.

This moves represents a balanced approach to provide both groups an opportunity to adapt to the new normal as we go through phase 3 and work toward entering phase 4.

It should be noted that the concerns of the Bermuda Hotel Association have not been ignored and the Government will be working with industry partners to find a solution to the specific problems that they are experiencing.

The Government will continue to work together with all stakeholders to allow Bermuda to get through these difficult times together.

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister for that update. It is clear that the work of this government continues through the actions of the Minister of Labour.

As schools around the island prepare to close, summer day camps will be opening. The Minister of Community Affairs and Sports, the Hon. Lovitta Foggo, last week, announced the opening of government camp registration. However, within a few hours, the spaces were all taken and a waiting list established. This has caused anxiety amongst parents who are looking for safe summer activities for their children.

The Ministry is looking closely at how we can accommodate more students, working with the Ministry of Health. Camps have instituted protocols that are in keeping with the Ministry of Health’s guidance, as well as best practices from leading global health organizations.

There are fewer spaces than normal this year to ensure physical distance requirements are adhered to. However, as has been stated, we are looking to make sure that we can expand these services, as we know, this is something that is desired by a great many parents. Certainly in a time of economic distress, more affordable programmes are needed to make sure that our students can be engaged in enriching activities and also to provide for those college students who may be home and may not have the opportunity to work, due to some cancelled internship opportunities. We believe this is a win-win, and we’re exploring how we can expand those particular services.

As I close, I must thank all those who continue to work on the frontlines of our protection against this pandemic. For those who have worked tirelessly, whether you are public health professionals, a member of one of Bermuda’s testing labs, a medical professional, a technical support member or a member of the public service to ensure that services are made available to the general public. Your selfless contribution is appreciated by a grateful country.

We have come a long way, and we still have a very long way to go. We are a community that must successfully move forward together. And as long as we remain united, I’m confident that we will make it through this pandemic. I now welcome any questions that members the media may have.