May 11th Press Conference Bermuda Government Update
Tonight I am filling in for the Premier, he is out this evening celebrating the birthday of his son Ed. So we wish Ed a happy birthday and we look forward to seeing the Premier back with us on Wednesday at the next press conference.
Today we will have the Minister of Health who will be giving the update on COVID-19 and the work of her Ministry; The Minister of National Security, who will provide an update on the work of his ministry and the Regulations that his Ministry and been overseeing during this period. And, we are also have an update from Minister Zane De Silva who is the Minister of Tourism and Transport who will give us an update on the work to get our public transportation system back up and running again and also helping with our economy as a result.
And now Minister of Health Kim Wilson.
MINISTER WILSON STATEMENT
Between Sunday and today there were 469 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and 1 was positive for COVID-19. I am, however, deeply saddened to say that we lost another person to COVID-19 over the weekend. As is the norm, details of this individual won’t be made public by the Ministry to respect the family’s right to privacy, especially at this difficult time.
Bermuda now has 119 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:
- there are 45 active cases, of which
- 37 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
I’m pleased to share that some hospitalized persons have been discharged, so now only
- 8 persons are hospitalized;
- a total of 66 have now recovered, and as indicated earlier
- the total deceased is now 8.
The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 60 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 68 and 89 years, and the average age is 77.
On Saturday we completed testing of all 21 of Bermuda’s care homes. Although the results of one care home are still being processed, to date we have the results of 333 care home residents and 436 staff members from 20 different care homes. Of all tested, 44 have come back positive.
I now want to share with you the results of The Bermuda Omnibus Pulse Survey which was commissioned by Bermuda Department of Health on the topic of COVID-19.
The survey consisted of telephone interviews with 400 Bermuda residents conducted between April 22th and 29th; during the ‘Shelter in Place’ requirement.
The survey asked questions on various topics including: COVID-19 News and Information Sources; Self-Quarantine and Reducing Stress; Impact of Shelter in Place on Behaviour; Programmes and Services; and Routine HealthCare Services.
On the topic of self-quarantine, only a minority of residents interviewed were required to self-quarantine (for example, if they travelled abroad), and the vast majority (81 per cent) of those who did self-quarantine indicated they had a suitable space to do so.
Virtually all residents were aware of ways to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, with by far the most common stress relief tactic being exercising such as walking or running. Meanwhile, two in ten residents mention spending time with and talking to family and friends as a method to relieving stress and anxiety; this was more likely to be mentioned by younger residents.
A variety of behaviours were evaluated to determine what, if any, impact the Shelter in Place order had on residents’ behaviour. Some expressed positive changes and others expressed negative changes.
Of note, three in ten indicate they now exercise more frequently than before the Shelter Place order, while the same number indicate exercising less frequently, which is perhaps related to gym closures.
I was pleased to learn that a greater proportion now indicate their eating habits are better (32%) as opposed to worse (19%).
Fewer than two in ten residents (17%) require routine health care services, and of those, just fewer than one-half of those (45%) have indicated the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their ability to access these services. Of the services they require routinely but have been unable to access, their doctor’s office or clinic (36%) and dentist (26%) are most commonly mentioned.
The topic of ‘access to healthcare during COVID-19’ actually segways perfectly into what I wish to share with you next…
I am thrilled to announce today the creation of a new Telenurse hotline and GP Telehealth consultation service for uninsured and HIP clients.
I want to, firstly, thank Argus Insurance for initiating this programme and making this possible. Argus approached the Government in late March with a proposal to provide Telehealth (nurse and physician) services to uninsured persons at no cost to the Government.
Initially, the programme will work like this: When an individual calls the COVID-19 hotline (444.2498) feeling unwell with symptoms that are unrelated to COVID-19, and they are uninsured or have the Government’s HIP health insurance policy, they will be transferred to Argus’ contracted Telenurse vendor – FoneMed. The Telenurse will provide advice and, if the individual needs to consult a GP, the calls will be transferred to Argus to set up a Telehealth consultation with a GP in Bermuda.
Telenurse advice will improve access to healthcare and minimize unnecessary utilization of hospital emergency rooms and other medical services.
It is a wonderful way to give back to the residents of Bermuda, particularly the vulnerable population.
It should be noted that this is a pilot and feasibility study. The pilot will allow the Ministry of Health to better understand the extent of need among those in the community who are, for example, out of work because of COVID-19. However, it does not replace health insurance or the need to have a GP.
I can also share that Argus Insurance has implemented a number of financial relief initiatives that will help cash-constrained individuals and groups maintain benefits while deferring premiums…. Argus is offering its clients options to defer this year’s premium updates while maintaining benefits to ease hardship on individuals and businesses, where necessary.
In closing, I wish to thank local companies such as Argus who are doing what they can to ease the financial burden on those who need it most during this pandemic.
Thank you Minister.
I would like to now extend our condolences to the unfortunate, most recent death related to COVID-19 to the family and friends of that person. I would also like to continually express condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one as a results of COVID-19. And certainly, we should keep in our thoughts our thoughts, all those who continue to fight this disease here in Bermuda, and wish them recovery.
The House of Assembly passed legislation on Friday 8 May amending the National Pension Scheme (Occupational Pensions) Act 1998 to permit a person under the age of 65 who participates in a private, defined contribution pension plan or local retirement product, to voluntarily withdraw up to $12,000.
The Senate will meet this Wednesday to debate the legislation and if approved by the Senate, the legislation will be signed by the Governor.
Following this, the Minister of Finance will then bring the legislation into operation with the publishing of a notice in the Official Gazette. Once the legislation has been brought into operation, a member or former member of a pension plan or local retirement product under the age of 65 will be able to apply to their administrator for a refund of up to $12,000. This will require them to complete an application form along with providing the appropriate supporting documentation.
If their application is approved, their plan administrator will have up to twenty working days to make the payment to the applicant as requested.
The Pension Commission will be providing specific guidance to the plan administrators to make the entire process as efficient and as timely as possible.
Also during Friday’s virtual session, the Premier confirmed changes to the Emergency Powers (COVID-19 Continuing Precautions) Amendments Regulation 2020.
These changes were:
- Marriages and domestic partnerships can now take place with no more than ten people, including the officiant, in attendance;
- Clarity was given around SCUBA diving. It is prohibited during Phase One; and
- Money service businesses are permitted to operate, with the permission from the Minister of National Security, restricting the number of customers inside at any given time in the business. It should be noted that licensed money service businesses must receive permission from the Minster of National Security prior to opening their business.
The Minister for National Security will give an update on the work of his Ministry during this period in time. Minister Caines.
MINISTER CAINES STATEMENTS
For the most part, we are seeing broad cooperation from the community and their compliance with Phase One of the Regulations. We are however monitoring various community chatter about the possibility of planned events to commemorate Bermuda Day. Again I urge the public to please be mindful of the guidelines in place. Any disruptions or breaches of the regulations could result in the Phase One period being extended. Sadly, as you are aware, last week our community was once again shaken by gun violence and anti-social behaviour.
Against the backdrop of what our Country is facing, this type of activity is the absolute last thing that’s needed. The Commissioner of Police has advised that the BPS have increased their patrols in key locations to manage gang tensions. And I encourage anyone with any information on last week’s incident to please contact the Police and share what you know. The Royal Bermuda Regiment continue their community engagement to ensure the Phase One regulations are followed.
This includes monitoring activity during the curfew hours and visiting beaches, parks and public spaces to ensure that persons are physically distancing and taking the right health and safety precautions. A special note about curfew hours specifically for boats and vessels on our waters. As a reminder, under the regulations, the curfew for vessels is actually at 7.00 p.m. and not 10.00 pm. So to be clear, at 7.00 p.m. any boat, vessel or pleasure craft should not be cruising around in our waters. Individuals on these boats must be indoors by 10.00 p.m.
Switching to the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service – these dedicated men and women continue to provide a vital service to the community.
Last week, the BFRS answered a total of 138 emergency calls:
– 93 were EMS related.
– 45 were fire related.
Also last week, as part of our new normal, the BFRS introduced Remote Video Inspections or RVIs particularly for buildings and construction sites. With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing in person inspections, these video links enable the Fire inspectors to conduct smaller routine inspections, consultations, system tests and Fire Certificate Occupancy Inspections in keeping with the health, safety and distancing guidelines.
Since its launch 3 requests have been received for the video remote inspection service which are conducted either via WhatsApp video, FaceTime or Zoom.
Any business or construction site can utilize this service by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the Bermuda Red Cross for their recent donation of surgical masks to our BFRS team. We appreciate their support of the BFRS and all our frontline workers during these challenging time.
Over at the Department of Immigration, there are a few updates to share. The waiver of certain fees:
Fees will be waived for applications that would have had a resultant negative impact during the period March 18 – June 5, 2020, for advertisement extensions, late applications, and appeals for continuance of work.
Expired Passports & Visas (already-resident applicants)
– For resident work permit holders (and dependents) whose passport and/or visa has expired but who cannot obtain a new passport or visa, we will waive this requirement.
– Employers must ensure that new passports and visas are applied for by August 4, 2020.
Applications should not be submitted for potential work permit holders (and their dependents) who are:
– currently off island and whose passport and/or visa has expired,
– who do not have a passport and/or visa, or
– for visa controlled nationals, whose passport and visa does not meet our 45-day rule.
Lastly, regarding the Delta Charter Flight which is due to arrive in Bermuda on May 15. This special flight is courtesy of Travel Edge and consists of 86 passengers.
These include Bermudian students and residents who have been unable to return home. The flight also consists of some residents who have been abroad for medical treatment.
As with the previous air-bridge flights all of the standard health and safety protocols will be followed at the airport to ensure the safety of our Customs and Immigration Officers as well as the members of the flight.
Everyone must quarantine at the Government Quarantine Facility for 14 days. The fee for residents staying at the quarantine facility is $100 a day. Please note that the Ministry is accepting applications for persons who are not able to pay due to financial hardship- this will be considered on a case by case basis.
Anyone who may need to self-quarantine at home for medical reasons should apply to the Ministry of Health.
Both of these exemption forms can be found on the Government website at forms.gov.bm/covid-19/Traveller-Quarantine-Exemptions-Applications.
Once Wednesday’s flight has landed and the disembarking passengers have been processed. That same flight will return to the US that same day, with 92 outbound passengers of varying nationalities.
Thank you Minister Caines.
I wish to also acknowledge the presence of the Police Commissioner Mr. Corbishley who is here as well.
As part of our phased and measured approach to reopening the island, public transportation plays a crucial role with getting our people and economy moving again. The Minister for Tourism and Transport, the Hon. Zane De Silva is here to give an update on the work he and the Ministry are doing to get public transportation going and as a result getting our economy moving.
MINISTER DE SILVA STATEMENT
A week after the Government’s announcement of a phased reopening of Bermuda’s economy, this is now an opportune time to update the country with an overview of the measures being implemented by the Ministry of Tourism & Transport to restore public transportation and reintroduce scheduled commercial flights to the island.
The public will be aware that the public ferry resumed service today under a reduced operating schedule with limited passenger capacity. The schedule is available to download from the Department of Marine and Ports Services website at www.marops.bm.
The Department of Public Transportation or DPT continue to operate the KEMH bus service while preparing to implement additional measures for resuming the public bus service.
The DPT is working to reintroduce the public bus service in the following phases.
Phase 1 – Sunday Public Bus Service operating 7 days per week.
Phase 2 – Full Summer Schedule
Before service can resume there are critical items that are being resolved, these include:
- Installation of driver protection screens (sneeze guards);
- Deep cleaning of buses;
- Obtaining agreement from the BIU/BPSU for the proposed scheduling arrangements and from the Office of Safety and Health committee for the proposed recommendations;
- Installation of hand sanitizers on all buses; and,
- Managing crowd control and queuing at Central Terminal.
We expect these issues to be resolved in the very near future and the public will be informed when the bus service is scheduled to resume.
In the interim, all members of the public are welcome and encouraged to use the public ferry service.
Now on to the topic of reintroducing flights to Bermuda.
As an island isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, air service is quite literally Bermuda’s lifeline to the rest of the world, and is critical to many areas of our economy and ultimately has a major impact on our economic wellbeing.
Air service to Bermuda is always a matter that has to be managed with the utmost consideration, but this is of overriding importance at the present time when considering the potentially menacing role that international travel can play in the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism & Transport is taking the lead role in reviewing and coordinating policy and the implementation of necessary controls in respect of air travel and its potential impact on the island.
Last year, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport supported a collaborative effort between the Bermuda Tourism Authority and the Bermuda Airport Authority to produce a strategy aimed at improving airlift to the island.
Together, these bodies commissioned an experienced aviation consultant called Ailevon Pacific or APAC as they are more commonly known.
In the first quarter of this year, APAC were due to introduce its recently completed strategy to increase and improve airlift to the island.
This strategy sought to grow Bermuda’s airlift capacity, that is, to increase the number of airline seats available for purchase both to and from Bermuda.
Increasing airlift capacity is an important stepping-stone towards growing Bermuda’s tourism industry.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to ‘hit pause’ on the implementation of the APAC airlift strategy but this does not mean that the process of ‘building the strategy’ has not greatly assisted in other ways over the past eight weeks.
Being able to leverage APAC’s broad range of relationships within the industry, and being cognisant of the recently completed strategy document, as well as partnerships with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, the Bermuda Airport Authority, and Skyport Bermuda has been in constant contact with its airline partners.
I am pleased to today inform the public, that all of the airlines serving our country before COVID-19 say they are ready to return to Bermuda once the crisis passes.
However, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the mix of gateway cities, the time of year, and the frequency of flights may not be what we have become used to in years past at least not initially.
We should anticipate a gradual resumption of the regularly scheduled air services. We should certainly NOT expect everything to return to normal immediately.
In updating the public on the current situation in regard to air travel, I would add important words of caution, that by its very nature, this is a constantly changing situation that may improve or may indeed, worsen by the time we reach Phase 4 of reopening, the “New Normal” phase.
When the time is right for regularly scheduled commercial flights to resume at L F Wade International Airport and non-residents are once again permitted to pass through our borders, we anticipate service to and from the following airports to recommence:
- New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport;
- Boston’s Logan International Airport;
- Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport;
- Toronto’s Pearson International Airport; and
- London’s Heathrow Airport.
The British Airways service from London’s Heathrow Airport will be a ‘new’ service for Bermuda and will replace the previous British Airways service from Gatwick Airport after British Airways consolidated its operations at Heathrow; at least on a temporary basis.
For our tourism sector and for the majority residents travelling from Bermuda, the change from London Gatwick to London Heathrow could have many advantages, particularly given how much easier it is for travellers to connect to other European countries from Heathrow as opposed to Gatwick which has limited European connections.
In the meantime, we anticipate the resumption of airline service to Bermuda from Philadelphia International Airport and Miami International Airport sometime in the not too distant future.
However, we would stress that we do not anticipate services from these cities resuming immediately upon Bermuda reaching the “New Normal” phase.
Like everything else at present, this is subject to change!
Lastly, I would like to advise all of Bermuda that the seasonal services from Newark International Airport, Washington Regan Airport, and Charlotte Douglas International Airport are unlikely to resume until 2021.
It should be stated that throughout discussions with our airline partners, the Ministry has been extremely pleased with the responsiveness and flexibility shown. Particularly considering how much turmoil currently exists throughout the global aviation industry.
At this point I would remind the public of another extremely important reality.
Dialogue with airlines and winning their commitment to serve Bermuda is really only one-half of the onerous tasks associated with restoring post-COVID-19 airlift to Bermuda.
I can also reassure the people of Bermuda that the Ministry of Tourism and Transport is working very closely with the Ministry of Health to prioritize a long list of public health requirements that MUST be implemented to keep our community SAFE as the time for the “New Normal” approaches.
There still remains much work to be done in a multitude of areas as we progress towards Phase 4.
Our primary focus is to ensure that as an island, we get to this point safely and responsibly.
Thank you Minister De Silva.
Finally tonight, I’d like to extend a word of thanks to all of my colleagues that are here today, but also to the ministries and departments behind them, that ensure that the work that they’re doing is done well. And they’re all doing a great job.
I would also like extend a heartfelt thanks to my own ministry team those at the Ministry of Home Affairs and all the departments. I would like to particularly give thanks, because I haven’t had an opportunity to do this during this period, to my PS of Home Affairs and particularly to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which has been giving great assistance to our commercial farmers, commercial fishermen, veterinary practices and pet stores.
I would also like to give thanks to one particular department in my ministry, the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is fielding a lot of questions from people around issues of consumer protection, through this period.
But as I said, there are many ministries and departments, including this one of Communications that has been doing a great job for us through this period. So I extend this message to that team as well, who are here at every press conference, helping to make sure that we get the message out to the public..
I would also like to thank everyone on the island who has been working to protect our community from COVID-19 and particularly those who have been helping us to enforce
the emergency regulations which have been in place for a number of weeks now. And who are sacrificing a lot of their time and energy, right now, to get our economy going in this Phase One. But I’d like to also mention as well, the goal is to get to the next phase.
It’s not just to stay where we are.
And that will depend on a number of things. That will depend on the number of new cases that we get, it will depend on the number of hospital admissions, it will depend on the number of ICU admissions, it will depend on compliance by the public regarding physical distancing.
Obviously, people in public we’ve asked them to wear masks. And also, the amount of hospital PPE that we have that can ensure the protection of everybody who’s working to take care of people through this period And the use of the Health IQ app as well. This will help our community to manage the situation.
This will be able to be led by the Ministry of Health and how we get to that next phase, and the advice that the public health professionals provide us in the government, and it will guide those decisions that we make.
And, of course, at the end of the day, if we all follow the rules, we will get to the next phase. So it’s very important that we remember, it’s by our cooperation and following the rules that are carefully laid out, that Bermuda will get from one phase to the next.
And we will be a healthier and safer country as a result.
And with that, I conclude and would happily in turn, receive any questions from you who are here today.