May 20th Press Conference

Bermuda Government COVID-19 Update

 

Good afternoon Bermuda.

Thank you for once again letting us into your homes for today’s update on COVID-19 in Bermuda and the work being done to safely reopen our economy and get people back to work so they can provide for their families.

This evening we will hear from the Ministers of Health, Finance and Education. We also have Dr. Michael Ashton, Bermuda Hospitals Board’s Infectious Disease Specialist and we are joined also by the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Wayne Caines and also the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball, in case there are any questions.

Tomorrow we officially begin Phase 2, with expansion of services. As a reminder, this phase of safely getting back to work includes:

  • Retail stores will be open for in-store customers and will follow the same alphabetical shopping days in place for grocery stores;
  • Beauty salons and barbers will be open under strict Public Health requirements;
  • Restaurants will be open for outdoor dining only;
  • Restaurants, and licensed bars with outdoor facilities will only be permitted to open with the approval of the Ministry of Health and the Environmental Health team;
  • Outdoor weddings and funerals will be permitted, with a maximum of 20 persons in attendance, subject to the proper wearing of masks and appropriate physical distancing. These two services are the only times where more than ten persons can be gathered. Apart from that, the restrictions for gatherings of ten in public and private remains.
  • Requirements for those boating to be from the same household have been removed. But still only a maximum of 10 people will be allowed on any vessel, subject to appropriate physical distancing. Additionally, we have determined that the same provisions will be applied to allow commercial or charter boat operations. A maximum of 10 persons, including crew, subject to appropriate physical distance. Tying to another boat is still prohibited, and boats are still required to be off the water by 7pm.
  • Playgrounds will be open, and licensed daycare centers can apply to the Minister of Health to, again, open their doors for childcare.
  • The use of outdoor gym equipment in our public parks, is now to be permitted with the public reminded to sanitize the equipment, prior to use.
  • Remote working and working from home is still required, where reasonably practical.
  • Buses have begun operating on a limited schedule, and all businesses are still required or permitted to operate between 7am and 9pm, as the 10pm to 6am curfew will remain in effect.

Now, the Minister of Health will provide the latest update on COVID-19 and Dr Ashton will provide an update on the convalescent plasma at the Bermuda Hospital’s Board, and also answer any related hospital questions.

THE MINISTER OF HEALTH STATEMENT

Today there were 14 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and none were positive for COVID-19. This is not the high numbers we have become accustomed to hearing but it is only because the testing teams have been deployed to critical areas including institutional and senior populations.

Bermuda has 125 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 36 active cases, of which
  • 33 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
  • 3 persons are hospitalized; of which
  • 2 are in critical care;
  • a total of 80 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased is 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 59 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

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

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 39 are Imported
  • 74 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 10 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 2 are under investigation

Bermuda’s country status remains “Local Transmission – Cluster of Cases”.

I can also advise you this evening that a staff member in KEMH’s Gordon Ward tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Consequently, the Gordon Ward has been put on quarantine, although all patients were tested this week and were negative. They will be tested again by the end of the weekend just in case any were pre-symptomatic when initially tested.

BHB has had mandatory testing for many weeks for staff who have had an exposure to COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms. There has also been voluntary testing for staff through the Southside facility for some weeks. With increased testing capacity now available, BHB is developing a programme of regularly testing staff, prioritizing front facing patient care services.

This proactive mass testing started with long term care services staff, which includes all patients and about 120 staff, followed by dialysis and long term care services at MWI, and a phased programme based on risk to patients and staff.

In addition, since 1 April, BHB has had protocols in place for testing all patient admissions and in-hospital transfers.
While testing will help identify infections, we know that only a strategy that combines strict adherence to hygiene, physical distancing, and mask wearing can successfully contain COVID. The use of daily PPE and physical distancing, along with hand washing, not touching the eyes, nose or mouth and respiratory etiquette remain critical in containing spread and potential outbreaks in the hospital. It is the strategy we have to apply in all settings where people interact.

As I mentioned at Monday’s press conference, as we move into Phase 2, the Ministry of Health will be creating guidance instructing what permitted businesses must do during this phase and what it means for certain sectors. This guidance will be posted on the Government website.

One further guidance document which has been created is one for outdoor dining under Phase 2.

Under the requirements of the EMERGENCY POWERS REGULATIONS 2020, restaurants can offer outdoor dining and bars can use outdoor areas during Phase 2.

However, I must stress that the only businesses which are permitted to open and provide these services are those which have previously offered outdoor dining and outdoor bar facilities. Any businesses wishing to offer such services for the first time must contact the Environmental Health Service for approval before opening.

All restaurants and bars providing outdoor services must comply with the requirements of this guidance document. These include the following:

  • All staff must wear masks at all times.
  • Patrons must wear face masks whilst waiting to be seated and at all other times when not eating or drinking.
  • Bookings will be highly recommended; walk-in’s will be recorded and regulated.
  • Physical distancing of at least 6 feet must be maintained during any waiting or queuing.
  • Guests must use hand sanitizers provided before entering the establishment.
  • Patrons will be greeted at the point of entry by a dedicated staff member and only granted access if safe to do so while adhering to physical distancing.
  • Clear signage must be provided at the entrance to the establishment and within the premises in relation to physical distancing, hand hygiene and the use of masks.
  • Only one person will be allowed to use the restroom facilities at any given time.
  • There will be a maximum of 10 persons per table. No handshaking, fist bumps, high fives or hugging will be allowed.
  • The maximum number of people allowed in the outdoor dining / bar area will be dictated by compliance with physical distancing.
  • There will be accessible and visible sanitizing products for guests and staff, with hand sanitizers placed at each entrance, each table and at waiter stations.
  • Managers will ensure that staff regularly wash their hands and use hand sanitizers provided.
  • All surfaces will be regularly sanitized. Once guests have left, the entire table will be cleared and sanitized.
  • Single-use, washable or digital menus will be provided.
  • There must be logging of cleaning schedules, sanitizing and disinfecting of all shared surfaces and bathrooms.
  • Kitchens and kitchen equipment must be deep cleaned prior to opening.
  • Kitchens must be deep cleaned at least once per day.
  • Packaged cutlery and single use condiments to be provided upon request.
  • There will be no direct service at bars.
  • There will be no self-serve salad or buffet bars.

In case of sudden inclement weather, and only where suitable covering is not provided outdoors, the restaurant may be used as temporary shelter for guests. However, in such instances guests will not be permitted to move freely throughout the establishment. Dedicated spaces must be assigned to allow for adherence to physical distancing and masks must be worn.

Contact Tracing is an essential part of combatting any outbreak of communicable disease. As we are still managing COVID-19 on island, it’s essential that we have procedures in place to assist contact tracing.  Therefore the following procedures shall be followed at restaurants offering outdoor dining:

  • Tables will be numbered
  • The party name and server name will be recorded.
  • Servers will wear name badges.
  • There will be one server per table.
  • The diner(s) contact details will be recorded.

There will be a mandatory space of 6 feet between tables or physical barriers when 6 feet is not reasonably practicable. Such physical barriers, if required, must be so designed as to adequately separate tables; they will need to be at least 6 and a half feet high.

There is also an extensive list of additional requirements which should be considered by establishments which can be found in the guidance on the government website coronavirus.gov.bm.

I end by reminding us all that if we do not adhere to public health requirements we will see increased cases of COVID, increased hospitalizations and increased deaths. The new normal is all about hand-hygiene, physical distancing and mask-wearing for all of us. We must integrate this into our daily lives to ensure safe passage through Phase 2.

Even though the guidelines say not to meet in groups larger than 10, that does not mean, for example, that it’s okay to go over to someone’s house where there are, say, 10 people…only to go to someone else’s house right afterwards where there is a gathering of a further 10 individuals. Now is not the time to house-hop! Anyone who you are within six feet of for more than 15 minutes becomes a ‘close contact’…so consider how many ‘close contacts’ you could potentially create by visiting multiple households.

Also, all groups of ten are not created equal. What do I mean by that?…I mean, if you are in a group of ten people who are only from one or two households that is far more preferable to being in a group of ten where you are all from different households. The intermingling of individuals from different households is probably the biggest threat to stopping COVID-19 spread and I urge you all to be mindful of this and to limit your interactions with others as much as possible.

As human beings, we are social creatures, but consider creating ‘social bubbles’ whereby you socialize with the same groups of individuals…rather than meeting up with many different groups of friends or family throughout the week.

Remember – you could be a “super-spreader” and not even know it. The more interactions you have with others and the more you are out and about in the world, the more at risk you put yourself and those in your household.

You can stay up to date and informed on the latest developments about COVID-19 by visiting coronavirus.gov.bm.

Thank you Dr. Ashton and thank you Minister of Health.

There are many who are worried about the future of what the economy may hold. The Minister of Finance has been working diligently to ensure that we’ll be able to navigate the difficult economic waters ahead. I will now ask the Minister of Finance to update Bermuda on his continued efforts.

THE MINISTER OF FINANCE STATEMENT

My remarks today will cover three items: unemployment benefits update; the Economic Advisory Committee and further emergency measures that will be undertaken by the Government.

Unemployment Benefits 

Last week I made a commitment that “…if you have been unemployed at the introduction of this program up through when you get re-employed, you will receive your benefit.”

Some folks may have interpreted that as meaning everyone would be paid by last week. That was our goal; we have made great progress on that front and continue to work to pay those persons who have not yet been paid.

The intended message was that:

  • Everyone eligible will get paid, and
  • You will be paid for the period for which you are eligible to be paid.

This means that, if you were unemployed for 6 weeks, you will get paid for those 6 weeks – even if you have yet to receive your benefit and are currently back to work.

That brings me to an important point. As we have stated previously, you are required to notify us when you go back to work. Some who believe they have not yet been paid their share may be tempted to withhold such information in order to “correct” what you think you are owed.

However, doing so would be in violation of the law and could result in you being overpaid. What is important is that we know the beginning and ending dates of your eligibility.

During last Wednesday’s press conference, I mentioned you could email us with details of your return to work. However, there is now an online form that should be used to confirm your eligibility period more expeditiously. Please visit www.bermudajobboard.com, follow the link at the top for COVID-19 Unemployment Application, then the link at the top for the Back to Work form.

Last week I advised that over 500 people had notified the Department of Workforce Development of their planned return to work.

This number has grown, and we expect that it will continue to grow as Bermuda enters Phase Two of its reopening. While economic recovery may be a long road ahead, over 1,400 individuals have now returned to work.

As mentioned earlier, we continue to make progress to resolve problem applications, and last week we paid 1,241 applicants for the first time and tomorrow we will be processing a mid-cycle payment to get funds to approximately 250 more.

We will now have paid benefits to over 9,000 for a total cost of approximately $23 million. We expect further payments to continue on a bi-weekly schedule, which means another payment next Friday.

Additionally, anyone having received a payment over the last week will receive an email tomorrow (provided you gave us an email address) informing them of some critical information on payment calculations. We encourage everyone to look out for this, review it carefully, and contact us if there are corrections necessary.

The COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee 

Last Wednesday, I advised that to appropriately navigate this crisis, I would seek the input and advice from all stakeholders in the community, and to assist I have established a COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee.

This evening I am pleased to announce the members of the new COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee.

I will chair of the Committee, and I have appointed the following 11 people to serve as members:

  • Ms. Teresa Chatfield, Owner/Director, MEF Bermuda;
  •  Mr. Dennis Fagundo, Co-Managing Director, D&J Construction and President, Chamber of Commerce;
  • Mr. Chris Furbert, President, Bermuda Industrial Union;
  • The Honorable Patricia J. Gordon-Pamplin, JP, MP, Shadow Minister of Finance & Health;
  • Mr. Marc Grandisson, President & Chief Executive Officer, Arch Capital Group Ltd and Deputy Chair, Association of Bermuda Insurers & Reinsurers (ABIR);
  • Ms. Cheryl-Ann Lister, Chair, Bermuda National Anti-Money Laundering Committee;
  • Mr. Michael Neff, Managing Director, Bermuda & International Wealth, Butterfield Group;
  • Ms. Sylvia Oliveira, Chief Executive Officer, Wilton Re Bermuda and Chairman, Bermuda International Long Term Insurers & Reinsurers;
  • Mr. Denis Pitcher, Chief Fintech Advisor, Government of Bermuda;
  • Mr. Patrick Tannock, Managing Director, AXA XL and Chair, Association of Bermuda International Companies (ABIC); and
  • Mr. Stephen Weinstein, Chief Legal Officer, RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd and Deputy Chair, Bermuda Business Development Agency.

At today’s meeting, the Committee discussed a range of organizational matters including the Committee’s Terms of Reference.

This Committee will provide insight and expert advice on how to protect jobs and stimulate economic activity during the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I look forward to working with this team to identify and eventually implement a series of measures to enable sustainable economic growth and mitigate the social impacts of the pandemic.

Further Emergency Measures 

I am pleased to report that the Government has implemented further emergency measures to assist businesses that have a pressing need for financial relief as a result of this pandemic.

Payroll tax – Restaurant and bar sectors 

The restaurant and bar sectors have been particularly hard hit by a significant decline in sales volume and job losses since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Accordingly, Government will immediately institute short-term relief from payroll tax to assist these sectors that have a pressing need for financial relief.

Therefore, during this quarter ending 30th June 2020, payroll tax will be set at a zero rate for the restaurant and bar sectors. Restaurants and bars will also cease deducting payroll tax from employees during this period.

This relief is intended to ease the pressure on Bermuda’s economy, and especially the pain being experienced by many Bermudians who work in this sector. We realise that this relief will result in a reduction of Government revenues.

Streamlined customs import duty deferment for business goods 

I would like to take this opportunity to announce new streamlined import duty deferment for business goods.

Many viewers may recall that in the Budget Statement delivered earlier this year, I pledged that “… the Customs Department will ease the financial burden on retailers by making the customs duty deferral process more user-friendly. This will assist retailers with their cash flow as customs duty will not be paid upfront, but rather after they have sold at least a portion of their goods.”

In keeping with that commitment, the Customs Department will, with immediate effect, allow retailers and other commercial importers to apply for duty deferment for up to six months on imported business goods subject to a minimal surcharge.

Whereas import duty is normally payable at the time each import declaration is made to Customs; by deferring duty payment, the time of payment is delayed for up to six months.

Upfront duty payment can place a strain on a business’ cash flow.

This strain can be exacerbated by also having to pay overseas suppliers upfront or on limited credit terms, and with associated bank charges on each transaction. This additional cost and the administrative handling of each payment increases the cost of trading. Duty deferment will allow customs traders, in particular retailers and Customs Clearing Agents, to increase the efficiency of payment handling, increase cash flow and reduce costs.

Long term duty payment deferral (more than six months) is also available in certain circumstances.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic contraction of the global economy and has been particularly devastating to small island economies, hitting the retail industry in Bermuda particularly hard. With the Shelter in Place Order and the mandatory shutting of most retail shops during Phase One, many retailers have been forced to make difficult choices, including employee furloughs or layoffs. The retail sector is anxious to find cost-cutting measures to help keep them afloat during this crisis.

Although duty deferment was not originally intended to address the COVID-19 crisis, by reducing import duty-related merchandise carrying costs, it is hoped that this Government measure might assist some businesses to cope with the economic effects of the pandemic.

Detailed guidance on customs duty deferment will be published on the Government Portal shortly. In the interim, all questions regarding Customs duty deferment may be sent by email to customs@gov.bm

Pension Suspension: 

Last week, the Senate passed the legislation 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, from the period that the Act was brought into force until 30th June, 2021.

To provide further support to employers and employees during this unprecedented period it is proposed to amend the National Pension Scheme (Occupational Pensions) Act 1998 to allow for a mandatory suspension of employee and employer contributions for a period ending on 30th June, 2021.

By providing such relief for employees and employers, participating employees will see their take-home pay increase by 5%, and participating employers will also benefit from reduced operational expenses (5% of payroll).

This is a temporary measure that will provide temporary relief to employers and provide additional income to employees.

If the suspension of contributions is taken up across the private sector, it will provide both relief and stimulus to families and businesses. The stimulus to the economy will be generated if some of the saving is converted to consumer spending in the local economy and business investment in infrastructure and improvements.

This is mandatory; however, employers and employees can make voluntary contributions should they wish.

The Government is mindful of the long-term implications on a plan member’s retirement income in permitting such suspensions. However, this must be balanced against the immediate and urgent needs in our community that has resulted from this unexpected crisis.

Finally the Cabinet has recently approved a suspension on Social Insurance Contributions for employees and employers. This proposal will provide further relief to assist businesses and employees that have a pressing need for financial relief.

Similar to the NPS suspension of contributions, this is also mandatory, and employers and employees can still contribute to the Contributory Pension Fund if they wish.

These proposal are sensible and intend to ease financial burdens on employers and employees as we navigate this pandemic.

Finally I can confirm that later this week, to supplement reduced revenues and additional COVID-19 related expenditures, I will execute the $150 million facility previously negotiated with local financial institutions. This will supplement an already executed $20 million credit facility with a local financial institution.

This borrowing capacity, together with current cash reserves and on-going tax receipts will assist the Government in taking the appropriate actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the short-term.

Thank you, Minister Dickinson.

Many have questions about the future of the school year, and the impact this virus has had on Public Education. The Minister of Education will now provide an update on what Phase 2, means for Education, Minister.

THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION STATEMENT

(To be added)

Thank you Minister of Education.

For each of the Ministers here, I extend a sincere thank you, to you and your respective teams of hard working Public Officers in your individual Ministries.

On Friday, the House of Assembly will be conducting a virtual meeting, enabling the people’s business to continue in spite of COVID-19, and in accordance with physical distancing regulations. As promised, we will be tabling a resolution to require a one year reduction in Ministers and Member’s salaries. This Government is leading by example, and we’re determined to do our part to reduce the cost of Government, so that we can deliver on our mandate of providing programmes that support our people. I’m grateful to the support of my parliamentary colleagues and the Progressive Labour Party, and also I’ve consulted, as I said on Monday, with the Opposition.

This is especially important in these times, and in the principle of those who have more being asked to do more starts with us in leadership. Therefore, at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting Ministers of the Government elected to take a 15% reduction on their ministerial salaries. The Government has been clear throughout that we will not ask Public Officers to do what we are not willing to do ourselves.

This Friday the House will debate:

The Development and Planning (Draft Bermuda Plan 2018 Extension) Act 2020, which will enable consultation on the Bermuda Plan to be extended in response to the disruption caused to the original process by the pandemic; and

Extension to Regulations for Phase 2 to 30th June. To be clear, there is no hard or fast date for the end of Phase 2. However this extension allows the government the flexibility to respond effectively to any changes related to COVID-19. This timeline will also correspond to the end of the State of Emergency on 30 June.

Also on Friday, there’ll be a number of bills tabled in the House of Assembly. The Summary Offences Amendment Act, to provide changes to curfew regulations. The Emergency Powers Amendment Act and Amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act, which will ensure that in future declarations of a State of Emergency, any particular item of Emergency Regulations will be tabled in the House of Assembly for Parliamentary scrutiny.

The Cost of Living Commission Amendment Act, which will require groceries and other stores to transmit pricing information, as requested by the Minister responsible for Consumer Affairs, electronically to the Government for publishing and sharing.

The Merchant Shipping Amendment Act.

Bills to suspend pension contributions in the private sector for one year, and suspend mandatory Social Insurance Contributions for one year, as was mentioned by the Minister of Finance in his statement.

And, there will also be a Bill introduced to suspend pension contributions from Ministers and Members of the Legislature. All of those bills will be debated in two weeks.

To listen to the proceedings of the House of Assembly, you’re welcome to go to parliament.bm. You can listen on radio at 105.1 or you’re welcome to listen in at bernews.com.

The Government of Bermuda continues discussions with airlines and charter companies to arrange flights home for Bermuda residents. If you are a person who is ordinarily resident in Bermuda and you are still seeking to return home, please complete the Returning Bermuda Residents Home form which can be found on coronavirus.gov.bm. Click here for COVID-19 forms.  While we work to arrange flights from many destinations including the Caribbean, it is important to know the number of residents who would take a flight to Bermuda if one was available.

I know that there are many persons in Canada who are looking to return home as well, but I was pleased to know that we could repatriate five Bermudians who were stranded in Canada on a private jet flight which came in earlier this week.

If you have previously listed your interest with the Ministry of Tourism and Transport or the Airport Authority, you do not need to complete this form again as they have your contact details already.

Before I move on to my closing. Just a quick update from the Southside testing facility. They will be taking their testing on the road. There will be a West End pop up drive-through testing site, located at the Warwick Academy, this Friday from 4pm to 7pm. This is by appointment only, and there will be no walk-ins for those of you in the west end. So, if this trial is successful, there will be more pop up testing facilities throughout the country, so that people will not have to drive all the way to Southside and may be able to be tested inside of their communities.

Dr. Weldon advises that they can test up to 72 people, but bookings must be made online at coronavirus.gov.bm, and you can click the link at the very top that says Health Screening Registration to check the availability. When you go there please make sure that you click the Warwick Academy booking option.

I will conclude tonight’s briefing with a word of encouragement to our community, and a look ahead to what is expected from all of us and what is required to put more of our people safely back to work.

We have made remarkable progress in combating a global pandemic that no one could have prepared for and that many countries have simply struggled to manage. The effort that we have made; working together, leaning on each other, being there for each other has been not for days, not for weeks but for months.

As a people and as an island we have done exceedingly well. I remain hopeful that together with the rest of the world we have been changed by COVID-19, and this experience for the better and that the change within us lasts long after this pandemic has been relegated to the pages of history.

Now is the time for us to continue to work together. Continue to practice the Public Health measures which we have learned over the last few months.

We know physical distancing works. We know washing our hands works. We know limiting contact with others works. We must remain disciplined and continue to take responsibility for our actions that keep ourselves, our families and our community safe.

As we enter Phase 2 there will be greater retail opportunities together with the ability to eat out, visit licensed establishments and get the grooming that you may have been used to. Now is the time for us to think about how we can continue to keep each other safe.

Now is the time for us to hold each other accountable, and for us to make sure that we remain unified and focused. Now is the time for us to step into a new future with new opportunities and a new way of working in what will become our new normal for some time to come.

Many have asked me, why do we still have a curfew? Why are there so many restrictions? Why can’t I shave my beard or get a wax? Why can’t we raft up? Why does my boat have to be in at 7pm? Why are there so many limits on our freedom?

The reason is simple. We are not out of the woods yet. We are still under a State of Emergency and we must not reopen our economy too quickly. Trust and believe, I want life to return to normal, yesterday as well. But just as much as I want my beard trimmed tomorrow, because we want it does not mean that it is safe to do so.

We must continue to work to limit the spread of this virus and as we continue to build our capacity to combat this virus. So, this weekend, and starting tomorrow, again, now is not the time to tear it. It is still cool out time. Let’s keep putting in work, so that we can move into Phase 3.

With the House of Assembly’s virtual session on Friday, there will be no Friday press conference. The next press conference will take place on Monday the 25 May, and we will move to two press conferences a week format, with the conferences taking place on Monday, and on Thursday.

In closing, I just have a few things to say. On Monday I neglected to wish a happy 89th birthday to Mr. Allan C. Frith. So Mr. Frith I want to wish you a happy belated 89th birthday. And I would like to say special happy 40thbirthday to Mr. Ralph Gumbo Bean, Jr., Captain of High Pressure, FC.

Thank you.