May 4th Press Conference Update

4 May COVID-19 Update

Good afternoon Bermuda.

Today the Government joins with all of Bermuda to mourn the passing of the latest victim of COVID-19.  We pray for their family and their friends, and we continue pray for those who are currently battling this virus, whether they be at home or whether they be in our hospital.

It is important to remember that COVID-19 is not a joke. It has forced many families to say goodbye to loved ones before their time. It has caused economic stress, personal stress and mental distress to many Bermudians. It has left many without work, especially those in our tourism and service sectors.

It is clear that this disease and this virus is no laughing matter.

Yet this weekend, while the vast majority of Bermudians left their homes only when necessary, far too many treated it as a joke, with reports of gatherings, parties, and certain businesses not enforcing social distancing and also a stabbing. To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.

I have spoken with the Minister of National Security, and enforcement will be stepped up and the penalties will be strictly enforced. The penalties for violating the regulations include a $10,000 fine and/or a term of imprisonment. To be clear, my job is not to criminalise anyone, and I do not wish to criminalise any more persons in this country than we have already done. However, I must balance that between my responsibility of keeping the country safe during a pandemic.

Tomorrow, the Cabinet will meet and amongst our matters of discussion will be whether there is a need to refine the existing regulations, and also the discussion of implementation of further economic relief measures for residents and business owners impacted by COVID-19. Specifically, authorizing a one-time withdrawal from private occupational pensions.

I am joined tonight by the Minister of Health, the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport. And before I go on to the other Ministers we will begin our press conference today with an update from the Minister of Health on the work being done by her team to protect the health and safety of Bermuda.

MINISTER OF HEALTH’S STATEMENT

Between yesterday and today there were 127 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda has 115 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 54 active cases, of which
  • 38 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
  • 16 persons are hospitalized;
  • a total of 54 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 7.

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 95 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 57 and 91 years, and the average age is 76. The age range of deceased cases is 57 -91.

As of today, we have tested 142 care home residents and 198 staff members from six different care homes. Of all tested, 299 have come back negative with 41 positive.

With respect to testing at the two care homes with outbreaks, at Matilda Smith Williams Rest Home less than 50% of those who tested positive were asymptomatic; at Westmeath, 90% were asymptomatic.
With respect to the first airbridge, there were 11 positive cases and all were asymptomatic. Quarantined passengers of the latest airbridge are being tested this week.

I give these details reluctantly, notwithstanding the public’s right to know and the media’s desire to report granular detail. However, I remind you all that given the size of our community and the small number of people we are referring to, it is all too easy for individuals to easily become identifiable. This is a reportable disease, just like measles or HIV. We have to treat the information with the same level of sensitivity because it is about our friends, neighbours and loved ones.

According to worldometers.info, Bermuda is now in the top 12 countries for testing per capita.

Unfortunately, due to our demographic characteristics with an older population and higher rates of chronic diseases, we do have a population with higher risks due to COVID-19. This is reflected in our mortality rate, which is why preventive measures are even more important in a community like ours with so many people who are clinically vulnerable.

However, I want to emphasize that even if you have been tested – and you test negative – that doesn’t mean you can’t get the virus; it just means that you don’t have it at that point in time. To stay COVID-free, you MUST practice physical distancing, wash your hands and wear a mask. Having a test does not mean you can stop the preventive measures.

Last week we introduced the public to HealthIQ…the Health Council’s simple online tool that will help us as a community in our efforts to progress from phase one through phase four of COVID-19 restrictions.

In the past two days, the Health Council have received over 1000 unique person reports with two potential COVID cases on HealthIQ.

Each member of the public is encouraged to go to HealthIQ.bm and enter information about how they are feeling. In addition to tracking our community’s health status and symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19, the tool will help our public health teams to identify risks and resources needed to keep our communities safe.

As I wrap up, I want to thank the operators at the COVID Helpline who have fielded more than five thousand calls from members of the public since March 19. This is a resourceful and dedicated team that has been assisting the public throughout this difficult period of rapid change. I salute the Helpline workers for the vital role you continue to play.

And, finally, as this month is International Nurses Month, I want to thank all of Bermuda’s nurses for your hard work and sacrifices made, particularly over the last few months which have been tough for nurses and healthcare professionals alike. Please know that we appreciate you. I appreciate you. And the entire community is grateful for your service.

Thank you Minister.

Before Minister Caines speaks, I would like to remind all persons that screening tests of essential workers continues at Southside. If you are a healthcare professional, work as a private home health aide, work in a grocery store or restaurant or if you are a government worker you should go to the drive through testing facility at Southside, which is located in the parking lot of the old White’s Supermarket.

Appointments are available daily from 2 pm – 7 pm.  Drop ins, though discouraged, may also be accomodated. Please go to the Government website coronavirus.gov.bm, for the link to book an appointment.

The Minister of National Security will provide details on the elevated enforcement measures stemming from the incidents over the weekend and additional information regarding the Ministry of National Security. Minister Caines.

MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY’S STATEMENT

I know many of you, like me, were concerned by some of the behavior demonstrated over the weekend where a few individuals simply did not follow the guidance and health protocols as set out in the regulations.

People were not observing physical distancing, they were not wearing face coverings and they were gathered in crowded groups in some instances. This Government indicated that if individuals, businesses or organisations could not adhere to the guidelines, then we will take the necessary steps to enforce the regulations. We are urging individuals to please act responsibly.

This evening, my update regarding the BPS/RBR is as follows:

  • The BPS and Regiment continue to be deployed across the island following the end of Shelter in Place. Over the weekend Community Advisory Points were set up at key public space locations to continue working with the public to provide advice and guidance on the amended regulations. Joint patrols took place on our beaches and parks to ensure physical distancing was in place. Several visits were made to business premises, including restaurants to monitor compliance. The BPS Roads Policing Unit were also active to monitor reported incidents of speeding and to prevent drinking and driving related activities.
  • As I said earlier, several incidents of behaviour, where non-compliance with the emergency powers regulations were observed. The BPS are now investigating these matters. However the feedback from the public condemning this behaviour shows the positive engagement we have within our communities. Bermuda, this type of behaviour puts communities at risk of COVID-19 transfer. We do not want to criminalise people but enforcement action will be taken if people do not follow the regulations. More notably if this behaviour causes community transfer this may result in the Country returning to Shelter in Place.
  • As a reminder, we encourage anyone to report any breaches of the regulations to the BPS. If the incident has taken place already, please do this via the relevant online form on the BPS website. However, if a serious breach is taking place please contact 211 for the police to respond.

Over the weekend the Royal Bermuda Regiment supported the BPS in patrolling beaches, parks and playgrounds conducting public reassurance visits and advising the public of the updated guidelines. RBR soldiers patrolled a total of 48 public areas over the weekend, and verbally engaged with 891 persons. Most gatherings or clusters of people were 3 – 7 persons. There were some larger groups identified where the RBR politely enforced physical distancing requirements. Additionally, patrols were extended to include permitted businesses and restaurants. I think it’s important to take a moment to remind the public about the guidance for restaurants. Section 12 of the Emergency Powers Regulations states:

  • Opening hours are from 7am to 9pm.
  • Collection of orders only – this means takeout service and no eating in.
  • Only one customer allowed inside to pick up the takeout meal.
  • Ideally customers should call their order in and pay with the order by credit cards to save a hand to hand transaction.
  • Delivery services are also running from restaurants.

There are also some gas stations which offer a food take out service. The guidelines for the food service aspect of these establishments should follow the food take out protocols of restaurants. So again:

  • Opening hours of 7am to 9pm only.
  • Collection of orders only – food should be ordered ahead for take-out service.
  • Only one customer at a time is be permitted to enter the premises to collect or pay for a food order.
  • Dine-in services are prohibited.
  • Self service offerings such as coffee, soup, hot foods and buffets, should not be allowed. This is to avoid people congregating and also to avoid cross contamination via surfaces / equipment / utensils etc.
  • Strict physical distancing must be maintained between staff members.
  • Strict physical distancing must be maintained between customers.
  • Management should monitor staff to ensure regular and adequate hand washing / strict adherence to personal hygiene in order to avoid cross contamination / cross infection.

Turning to the Government managed quarantine facility:

  • There are currently 97 persons in the facility.
  • Today 7 persons were tested.
  • On Thursday another 80 plus persons will be tested.

And lastly, regarding the Customs Department, the Hamilton Custom House is closed to walk-in customers until further notice. Customs no longer accepts paper customs declarations.

Customs declarations may be submitted normally by the following electronic means:

  1. The Customs Automated Processing System (CAPS) using the Customs File Transfer Protocol (FTP) site; or
  2. Using the Customs Web Trader service.

Scans of supporting documentation should only be sent in response to a Customs query. You must apply for a CAPS ID Number if you are making electronic submission. For more information on who needs a CAPS ID Number and how to apply for one, visit the Government Portal: https://www.gov.bm/customs-automated-processing-system-caps

Customers who are unable to make electronic submission themselves should use a customs clearing agent to make the customs declaration for them. Duty payment should be made by Bank-to-bank transfer. For guidance on how to make bank-to-bank transfers you can also visit the Government Portal at https://www.gov.bm/how-make-payments-customs. If anyone has any Customs related enquiries they can email customs@gov.bmThank you.

Thank you Minister.

In a follow-up to the comments which the Minister has given, I’ve been asked by a few people on line to explain what gatherings of no more than ten means.

It is rather simple. It means no more than ten people can be in the same place, and if there are ten or less persons in the same place, they must be, according to the rules, exercising physical distancing. Six feet or more apart, each person must make sure that they wash their hands frequently, with no hand shaking, hugging or kissing. It is important to reduce transmission risk that everyone at the gathering should wear a mask for the entire time that they are together, especially if they are not from the same household.

Having said that, if you don’t have to gather, then you shouldn’t. Our goal is to reduce the number of people in the country who contract this virus. As a country we will not be healthy or wealthy if we treat this virus as a joke.

I was appalled to see photos of persons that I know live with seniors, this weekend gathered in groups with others who were not wearing masks. Not only are you putting yourself at risk, you’re putting your family at risk, and that is not wise.

There is a lot of talk about masks. And I’ve had people sending me old social media videos about masks not being recommended by the international organizations. The fact is that this is a new virus and information changes quickly. The old information is that masks were not recommended to be worn. That is old information, and all of the international bodies are now recommending that in cases, where social distancing cannot be achieved, that you wear a mask. And as the Minister of Health has said on numerous occasions, you wear a mask to protect me, and I wear a mask to protect you.

You also heard from the Minister of Health today, that the vast majority of persons who were caught in our screening exercises, both at some of the rest homes, and also on the air bridge flight, who tested positive were asymptomatic. What that means is that they did not have the traditional symptoms of a fever or a cough. They had no symptoms whatsoever.

And so that is why it is important, and I heard people giving comments such as; the guidance does not say that people who are uninfected should wear masks. That is precisely the point. We don’t know who may be infected, and the evidence shows that there are a large number of persons who are infected, who do not know they have the virus, and can transmit it to somebody else.

That is the reason why, if you’re in groups of persons or, for instance when you’re entering buildings, you are required to wear a mask, so you do not spread this disease to other persons unwillingly. This is not something that we are implementing because we think these sets a good fashion style. We are implementing it because it is necessary to save lives.

On another note, we continue to get queries and concerns about landlord and tenant issues. I just want to repeat some guidance, which was previously given by the Government. We’re encouraging landlords to assist tenants experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. We ask that landlords consider realistically assessing their own financial situation, and obligations as to how you may be able to assist your tenant. Making sure that you speak with each tenant individually, if you’re renting to more than one tenant to assess each tenant’s situation on a case by case basis.

Taking into account the current ability of a tenant to pay, and the history of the tenant’s payment record. Landlords are also requested to have compassion for tenants who do not have family support on the island, and are not eligible for financial assistance, but may be able to claim unemployment benefits, and may have been late in receiving those particular benefits.

We certainly encourage tenants who have the ability to pay their rent to please do so in accordance with their current rental agreements If it comes time to go before the courts, and it is shown that you have had income and were able to pay your rent, then I’m quite certain that the courts will look at your situation in a less favorable perspective.

Changes to a lease must be documented and acknowledged by both parties on the agreement reached, including whether any reduction in rent is temporary, or if the rent reduction is to be deferred to a later time, when the tenant may have more of an ability to pay. In addition, any agreement reached to amend payment terms should be reviewed on a monthly basis, valid for up to 90 days.

Working in collaboration with the Real Estate Division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, the COVID-19 landlord / tenant addendum agreement guidelines as well as a COVID-19 rental relief form has been developed to support discussions around adjusting rent payment during these uncertain times and can be found on the Government website at coronavirus.gov.bm, and just click on COVID-19 forms.

The Unemployment Benefit Programme has had its successes, yet we cannot celebrate until every single Bermudian that is eligible for this safety net has received the support they so desperately need.  Today, Minister Foggo  has joined us again and will provide an update on the Unemployment Benefit Programme

MINISTER FOGGO’S STATEMENT

Last week some 2,500 applicants who have not previously received the payment of their benefit before were paid together with those that have been paid previously and were still eligible.  The total paid last week was $7.2 million.  Since the launch of the fund on the 25th March 2020, some 7,500 have been paid the benefit totalling over $ 15 million.

My colleagues and I on a daily basis hear heart wrenching stories of Bermudian families who are struggling to put food on the table, let alone pay their utility and other bills.  We hear you.

The Minister of Finance last week amended the regulations for the unemployment benefit to expand those who qualify to include those self-employed persons who were not previously registered with the Office of the Tax Commissioner. They can now apply for the benefit after registering with the Office of the Tax Commissioner and will be eligible for a benefit of $300 per week for up to 12 weeks.

I am aware of the frustration of some, who are not self-employed, who have applied and have not received their benefit yet.  There are more than 90 people from multiple government departments working to process outstanding payments. More persons were brought on last week and we will keep on working until all persons who are eligible receive the assistance they require.

As I mentioned last Monday, if you applied for the benefit on or before the 6th April and at the end of last week had not received any benefit, or been advised that you are ineligible, then you should contact the call centre for assistance.

We have updated the call center to ensure that calls are routed to the next available customer service representative.  Please call 297-7714 and 297-7716 during normal business hours which have been upgraded to handle the volume of calls.

The Unemployment Benefit Form can be found at www.gov.bm.  Emails can also be sent to unemploymentbenefit@gov.bm for assistance.

I commend those businesses that have stood by the employees during this very difficult time.  A number, despite having little or no income during the stay in place period, have kept their staff on the payroll and their employee’s health insurance in place.  These companies have put their employees first and I wish to sincerely thank them for this.

Finally, with the Shelter in place ended we are seeing some residents going back to work.  If you are back at work and had applied for the unemployment benefit, then you must notify Workforce Development and can do so by email to unemploymentbenefit@gov.bmincluding your name, social insurance number, date of birth and the date that you began work. Thank you.

Thank you Minister Foggo.

The government has authorized Travel Edge to operate a second charter flight to bring Bermudians home from the United States.  The flight will operate from Atlanta on May 15, if there is enough interest. Passengers on the flight will be required to quarantine at a government facility for 14-days at $100 per day on arrival in Bermuda.

Travel Edge requires 90 confirmed passengers in any combination of inbound and outbound travel to make this work.

If you are interested, you should contact Travel Edge at info@traveledge.bm. If you have previously registered your interest on the government website, we will ensure that you receive the information about this charter flight.

This morning the government expanded services that are available to the public. These services include the Transport Control Department, the Office of the Tax Commissioner, and ground floor cashiers in both the Government Administration Building and the Dame Lois Brown Evans Building.

The Transport Control Department was open for most business today. While there were long lines at one point this morning, overall, today went well at TCD. There was one element of confusion with respect to the collection of vehicle registrations by those persons who licenced their vehicle online while TCD was closed. Those who used the eTCD system and elected to have their items picked up, versus them being mailed can collect their registration at the National Sports Centre pavilion.

To assist with physical distancing, TCD is asking everyone to go the pavilion using the same system used for grocery shopping days. So, if your last name is:

A – F: your day is Mondays and Thursdays

G – Q: Tuesdays and Fridays

R – Z: Wednesdays and Saturdays

For those persons whose last name is R – Z and you wish to collect your registration on Saturday, please visit TCD offices on North Street, not the pavilion on Saturday.

All customers going to TCD on North Street will be served on a first come, first served basis. However, it is important to know that you can avoid all lines by using the etcd.gov.bm website and choosing the option to have your vehicle registration mailed to you, versus you picking it up.

To give an update on the delivery of mail: home delivery has been occurring every week Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This will continue for the next few weeks. All post boxes are accessible to the public at this time. Starting tomorrow parcels can be collected from the General Post Office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Public access to Government offices, however, will be limited and there are a number of new procedures in place for anyone who has to go into a Government office; specific locations may have additional criteria in place.

Before entering any Government building, a Government official will request that all persons have their body temperature taken with an infrared (touchless) thermometer.

To enter Government buildings, everyone must wear a face covering. Those without a face covering will be refused entry.

Hand sanitizer will be set up at each entrance. Everyone must sanitize their hands before entering the building.

Regarding the use of elevators, depending on size, only one or two people may ride in an elevator at the same time. There will be signs outside each elevator indicating how many persons are allowed in at the same time. However, to encourage physical distancing persons are encourage to use the stairs.

To assist with physical distancing outside, there will be there will be markers identifying breaks between six feet. Government officials will be located at doors and there will be signs at the front of each building to let you know what you should and shouldn’t do while in the building.

Earlier today, discussions were held with our union partners on the economic situation facing our country and how together we can act as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and do our part to save jobs, help those in need and save tax payer dollars. Within government, we have already identified $65 million dollars in taxpayer savings and we are working collaboratively with our union partners and we expect to find even more.

These talks were fruitful and I am convinced that we understand the need to find solutions that will benefit all.

Yet as we look to our public officers for sacrifice and solutions, all too often social commentators look solely to them to bear the burden of sacrifice, while those who can afford to sacrifice are rarely asked to do so.

Our public officers have often been scapegoated, abused, and disrespected and portrayed as the source and solution to most of our problems.  The Government certainly does not accept that. In fact we reject that mindset entirely. We know the sacrifices they make, and the tireless work that many of them have performed, especially in the last few months, as this country has battled this pandemic.

As we are in this together, sacrifice will be discussed with all, worked upon by all, and made by all. Not just those at the lowest end of the economic scale, and just not by public officers. It makes no sense to ask persons to take cuts to their wages when people do not get cuts to interest rates or cuts to their power bills. So to be clear, fairness is needed across the board, and this government will ensure that all are to be a part of the equation.

As we close tonight, I want to focus on the people who did their part in the early days of Phase One to try help our country move forward and closer to the next phase to reopening of our country and our economy.

If you serve on the frontlines as a medical professional battling COVID-19 and caring for its victims;

If you serve on the frontlines in maintaining law and order;

If you are helping to keep our people fed, or reopening your business, following the rules and ensuring people maintain their strict social distancing;

Or if you simply played by the rules, maintained physical distancing, limited gatherings to 10 or less people and only left the house when necessary.

Thank you.

You are the ones who, despite the actions of a selfish few, will help move all of us to a closer normal return.

Bermuda we can get through this. And we have come too far together, to fracture and crumble now. I know that there may have been a lot of pent up frustration and energy, after being inside of your homes for four weeks. However, it is important that as a country, we do better, we stand stronger, we hold each other accountable, and obey the law so that together we can see our lives and our collective health, improve.

This is not forever, but the longer it takes for us to get our act together, the longer it will take for us to come out of this. Thank you, and I’m happy to take any questions that you may have.