PRESS CONFERENCE – April 15th

COVID-19 Update

Good evening.

As a government, our priority is to protect lives, preserve the health and safety of our people. It is also our mandate to create jobs and opportunities for Bermudians. Today, there is uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, and there is uncertainty around the economic future of Bermuda and the world.

Today, we will give an update from the Ministry of Health, but we will also provide an update on government’s efforts to protect our economy and to aid small business and what we are going to do to prepare Bermuda for an economic recovery after the Shelter in Place has ended.

This evening I’m joined by Minister of Health Kim Wilson who will provide a COVID-19 update. I’m also joined by the Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson, who will provide an update on the economy. We are also joined by the Executive Director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, Miss Erica Smith, who will announce the small and medium sized business relief package. I’m also joined here at The Berkeley Institute by the Minister of National Security, who’s on hand to answer any questions in addition to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball.

First, there will be an update from the Minister of Health, regarding the various issues surrounding the latest update, regarding COVID-19. I do warn that the news that is about to be shared may be sobering to many, and I recognize that it will cause concern, but I also want to remind the public that there is a team of Public Officers and the Government that is working day in and day out to make sure that we continue to control this outbreak. Minister Wilson.


Minister Wilson’s  statement

Thank you, Premier.

Between late yesterday and today there were 80 test results received; of those 24 were positive for COVI-19 and 56 were negative. Thankfully, there were no deaths.

I can confirm that of the 24 new positives, 23 were associated with the outbreak at Matilda Smith. On one hand, there is a good thing about this finding which is that it represents a cluster of transmissions, as opposed to untraceable transmission in the community. Nevertheless, it is disheartening news for all concerned and out of respect for patient confidentiality, we will not share information on the number that were residents or staff. The public can be assured that the public health team is actively working with the rest home to contain the situation for all concerned.

I would remind the public that we must not put an emphasis on any setting or facility that is found to have an outbreak. This is a virulent disease and its transmission is not the fault of a facility. We must be sympathetic to those affected and desist from putting additional strain on the persons having to manage the situation.

With these new cases, Bermuda’s total confirmed positive cases is now 81. Their status is as follows:

  • 33 have now recovered
  • 34 persons are under active public health monitoring, but who do not require hospitalization, and
  • 9 persons are hospitalized.

The total deceased stands at 5.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 56. The median age is 57, and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 91 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 67 and 82 years, and the average age is 74.

Out of the 81 positive cases confirmed to date, 36 are males, and 45 are females.

Regarding testing, one question which keeps coming up seems to be: “Why can’t we test the entire population?”

The reason we are not doing this is because if we test people too early, the virus may not show up in the test and they could get a false negative. So, for example, if someone were tested within a few hours of exposure when they had no symptoms, the test would not pick up the disease and they would get a negative result that is wrong. Consequently, that individual – thinking they did not have COVID-19 – may go out into the community and spread the virus to others unknowingly.

As previously stated, the Government will be implementing more extensive testing once all the necessary supplies are fully available on island. Until then, we will continue to test as aggressively as possible all symptomatic persons and necessary close contacts.

We heard a lot last night from the Chief Medical Officer about contact tracing…She detailed the many complexities of the process. One of those is people remembering where they have been and who they have come into contact with over the past 14 days. This information is requested when they are telephoned by a Public Health Officer to do contact tracing because that individual has tested positive for COVID-19.

Obviously for the majority of the public, your daily diaries will look much the same while Shelter in Place is going on…with only trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, or to exercise within one kilometre (half a mile) from your home…unless, of course, you are an essential worker.

But keeping a simple diary of where you have been each day and who you have been in contact with is a very good way to keep track of your movements so that you have this information to hand in case needed. Also, most phones these days have a tracking capability on them and can be used to generate daily or weekly reports for you.

This is a good habit to get into now for when we come out of Shelter in Place. Because contact tracing will continue beyond this period, until this pandemic is under control globally.

Other good habits to get into now are ones that keep you healthy – both mentally and physically. The healthier you are, the better chance your body has of fighting off the virus if you are infected.

I recognize that we are limited with our options for physical fitness by the Shelter in Place regulations…but there are still many activities that can be done:

  • Online workout videos (there are so many options!)
  • Dancing
  • Skipping
  • Using indoor fitness equipment if you have it in your home
  • Wii Fit
  • Jogging or walking for one hour a day between 7am and 7pm within a one kilometre distance of your home.

Please keep healthy and look after yourself. Get daily exercise. Prepare healthy meals with lots of vegetables – have fun and experiment with new recipies. Avoid or limit the use of alcohol and do not smoke or take drugs.

The Ministry of Health is currently conducting an Omnibus Survey to gather statistics on people’s health, stress levels and healthy or unhealthy behaviors during this pandemic.

In closing, I want to thank those who have submitted videos so far so the Who Are You Protecting? campaign that I announced last night. We have had some really lovely entries so far.

A reminder that you can submit your entry via email to moh@gov.bm with the subject line Who Am I Protecting?or by Whatsapp to 504-6045. The deadline for submissions is Monday April 20th. They will be posted across social media and YouTube next week.

And, finally, I would like to appeal to residents to please follow the Sheltering in Place guidelines and directives. This means no play dates between your kids and other children in your neighbourhood. It means no popping over to your friend’s house who lives down the road, and not having anyone in your home who does not live there. If anyone would like more details, they can be found at coronavirus.gov.bm.

Shelter in Place is a sacrifice for all involved. But it can be life-saving for every transmission it prevents. Stay home to save lives.

Thank you

Thank you, Minister of Health.

As I said yesterday, while we sacrifice, we cannot let the economic effects of this pandemic be worse than the health effects of this pandemic. The economic plan the Government is putting in place will allow us to be agile, and to move quickly.

Bermuda, like the rest of the world must continually assess our financial position and start laying the groundwork now, so that when the time comes to step out of our homes and eventually open our borders, we’ll be in a strong position to move forward. It is our goal to use this opportunity not just to restore our economy, but to transform our economy, identifying new ways to elevate Bermudians financially and creating new opportunities for entrepreneurship and new careers.

Minister of Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson will now give an overview of the items which the Ministry of Finance has been working on, and outline the economic plans for the country. Minister.


Minister Dickinson statement

Initially, I wish to offer my condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. I would also like to thank all of our front line workers who are out there daily, working hard, battling this pandemic, providing vital services; protecting our health and well-being, and keeping our island functioning. We are grateful for your dedication and commitment and especially your bravery.

On March 16th, I advised the general public on the action being taken as part of the Ministry of Finance COVID-19 – Fiscal Plan. These actions were as follows:

  • To obtain emergency financing to supplement reduced revenues and additional COVID-19 related expenditures.
  • To provide additional funding to assist Bermuda’s unemployed as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19.
  • To curtail lower priority expenditures to ensure that spending needed for COVID-19 matters can be maintained.

I also noted that no spending reductions would be made that would jeopardize the health, safety, and security of the people of Bermuda.  Bermuda’s unemployed will be assisted, and fiscal prudence will be strictly maintained.

To support these initiatives, the debt ceiling was raised by $150 million to $2.9 billion during the final sitting of the House of Assembly and at this time net debt stands at $2.680 billion leaving the Government with approximately $220 million of borrowing capacity.

Additionally, the Ministry has executed a $20 million credit facility with a local financial institution and is in the process of finalizing another $150 million facility with other local financial institutions.

This borrowing capacity, together with current cash reserves will assist the Government in taking the appropriate actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the short-term. To assist people out of work due to the economic impact of COVID-19, the Government has quickly introduced an unemployment benefit.

The Ministry of Finance has worked closely with the Department of Workforce Development and our local banks to ensure that as soon as possible, money was available for unemployment benefits. We recognized that time was of the essence. I’m also pleased to announce additional manpower, other parts of government will be marshaled to speed up the process and get much needed to funds to our families that have found themselves displaced by COVID-19.

We have responded quickly to this crisis and have used the tools and resources at our disposal in a meaningful way to provide much needed financial assistance to our people during this unprecedented time.

As of this week, the government expects to have paid benefits to just over 5,000 persons at a total cost of approximately $8 million.

We recognize the importance of continuing to help our people through these challenging times, and the unemployment benefits, provide temporary assistance, by providing financial support to meet people’s basic needs.

In the recently conducted 2019/2020 fiscal year, the Ministry of Finance has provided increased emergency funding of $2.8 million to the Ministry of Health to fund personal protective equipment, testing kits and testing equipment, among other things.

Additional funding has also been provided to the Ministry of National Security in the amount of $450,000, in order to embodying the regiment, and provide quarantine facilities.

A further $171,000 has been provided to the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Legal Affairs and Department of Information and Digital Technology for other COVID-19 matters. To assist businesses that have a pressing need for financial relief, on April 3, the Government announced that several temporary emergency measures were instituted, which included extending deadlines for tax filings and deferring or possibly waiving of fees, taxes, and penalties.

In many parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted companies of all kinds, small and medium sized enterprises have not been spared. Many SME’s business models depend on face to face contact and the physical location, in order to drive their business models. With the current crisis and the Shelter in Place Order, these businesses have suffered significantly and have experienced job losses.

Small and medium sized businesses are an essential part of the Bermuda economy. The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) is currently doing their part to support these businesses through COVID-19 and beyond. I can advise that the Government will provide support in the amount of $12 million to enable the BEDC to provide resources to expand the programs now being run to assist small and medium sized enterprises.

At my press conference on March 16th, I noted that the future was not clear, but  I advised that the implications for Bermuda would likely include:

  • Slower growth in Bermuda’s economy;
  • A rise in unemployment;
  • A downturn in visitor arrivals;
  • And reductions in consumer spending, retail sales, and government revenues.

A recent OECD interim economic outlook reported that the Coronavirus has put the world economy at risk, and that the Economic Impact of the Pandemic public-health measures to suppress COVID-19 will cause a severe economic shock in all directly affected economies. The economic consequences will be extreme in the short term and could be severe in the long term if governments get their economic policy responses incorrect.

Early signs imply that the economic hit will be considerably worse than the Global Financial Crisis. Predicting the exact scale of the economic damage at this point is difficult due to continuing uncertainties.

During the global financial crisis, the deepest contraction in the Bermuda economy was 5.6% in 2009.  The 2009 recession was the most severe one to have affected Bermuda since the 1930s. In line with most other countries, we expect the contraction in the Bermuda economy in 2020 to be worse than in 2009, due to COVID-19. The Ministry is in the process of getting economic modeling done by independent parties.

In the 2019 Economic Review presented in the House of Assembly on Budget Day, the Ministry reported that the island’s economic growth in 2020 was estimated to expand by 1.0–2.0 per cent. COVID-19 impacts have made this projection no longer valid as it has disrupted most sectors of the Bermuda economy.

By way of example, the total number of persons to be paid unemployment benefits as of this week is just over 5000 persons. This represents approximately 15% of the 35,393 persons, working in Bermuda. The tourism sector has been left with major challenges due to travel bans and cruise ship cancellations. Business closures during the Shelter in Place Order mean that economic activity has slowed dramatically.

After considering the impact that COVID-19 could have on all sectors in the Bermuda economy and the level of unemployment the Ministry of Finance, working with the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC), has revised our growth forecast from 1.0% to 2.0% per cent to -7.5% to -12.5%. It is important to note that this is a preliminary projection, is based on reasonable assumptions and is primarily dependent on how long intensive suppression measures remain in force. The IMF, in their World Economic Outlook on April 14th, have predicted the global economy will contract by 3% in 2020, and in the US, 5.9%.

The economic impact of COVID-19 will also have severe knock-on effects on the 2020/21 Budget. The combination of lower fiscal revenues, and higher public spending, will no doubt cause the projected budget deficit of $19.8 million to increase.

The Ministry of Finance COVID-19 – Fiscal Plan calls for a reexamination and reduction of lower priority budget expenditures to ensure that spending needed for COVID-19 matters are maintained.

In line with the zero-based budgeting methodology reintroduced this fiscal year, the 2020/21 budget will require a revised alignment of the allocation of resources to tackle the threats posed by COVID-19.

To that end, over the next three months Government will:

  • Delay the start of any  capital projects that have not commenced; this could save between $10 – $15 million;
  • Institute an immediate freeze on the funding of vacant post that are not required to address COVID-19 or to protect Bermuda’s national interests; this could save between $10-$15 million;
  • Continue the ban on non-essential government travel which could save between $1-$2 million; and
  • Reducing all discretionary spending including training, materials and supplies, clothing and uniforms etc. which could save $3-$5 million.

We understand that the economy must be addressed, however we must make it clear that the Government’s number one priority is managing this health crisis.

The Ministry of Finance recognizes that to navigate appropriately through this crisis we will require the input and advice from all stakeholders in the community.

Accordingly, as I mentioned in my March press conference, the Ministry of Finance has increased its monitoring of global economic conditions and its interaction with stakeholders in the public and private sector to obtain views from business leaders about industry sector performance and their outlook. This will assist in the development of our economic recovery plans for COVID-19.

Additionally, the Ministry of Finance has already engaged with the Fiscal Responsibility Panel to seek their feedback. Further, on April 10th the Ministry of Finance and BMA convened an emergency meeting with the Financial Policy Council on COVID-19. The purpose of this Special Meeting of the Financial Policy Council was to provide a forum for preliminary discussion and advice to me, as the Minister of Finance and the Bermuda Monetary Authority on the possible impact of COVID-19 developments on the financial stability of Bermuda.

The scale and speed of the economic recovery in Bermuda will depend critically on the economic policy actions taken now.

To build on the momentum from the FPC meeting, I can confirm that I will be establishing a COVID-19 Economic Advisory Committee. The committee will include key stakeholders in the Bermuda economy and community. They will provide advice to me and will help to get our economy moving again.

As I said previously, the Ministry of Finance recognizes that to get through this crisis appropriately we need the input and advice from all, including the general public. To this end the Ministry will be setting up an email address as well as the Online Government Forum where you can submit your ideas, your suggestions and your vision for the revitalization of our economy in the post COVID-19 world. The email address and the launch of the Online Government Forum section will be announced shortly.

Finally, the Ministry is also working with The Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC)  and  the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to observe what other measures are being implemented by countries in the region to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Our economy will change, and the Government will change to take the challenge head on to create outcomes that benefit the people of Bermuda.  Yet, as the Government will have to change, businesses will also have to change, and our people will have to be ready to change and embrace change as well.  The old models may no longer work, the old thinking may no longer be relevant and the old way of doing business may not be what Bermuda needs to survive and thrive in the new reality of our global economy.

In closing I will once again thank all of our essential workers and everyone who is on the front line, working day and night to ensure our health and well-being. We are grateful for the sacrifice and dedication of all of those wonderful people keeping us safe, keeping this island operating, while putting their own safety at risk. Thanks also to those businesses and individuals who are generously donating funds, resources, and supplies to assist in our efforts to fight this virus.

Thank you, Minister of Finance.

As an entrepreneur, I’m keenly aware of the many challenges that are facing many of our businesses. When you tell me that you’re struggling to maintain health insurance for your staff or cover other expenses during this time of reduced business activity, I get it. It is heartbreaking to see hard work slipping away, and your businesses stuck at a standstill. I believe in bottom up economics and it is the small business owner who hires two or three others who will need ongoing support as we transition from this pandemic into a fully operational economy.

The BEDC has been working with agency partners to help our small business owners. I will now turn the mic over to Ms. Erica Smith of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, who will present on the resources being put in place to assist at this time, and get more details on the distribution of the $12 million in funding, which has been made available by the Ministry of Finance.

The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation has been hard at work, and this $12 million additional of assistance to our small and medium sized enterprise will certainly go a long way. I thank them for their continued work and their efforts. I know that they have continued to work remotely, and have continued to serve our small business community, and assisted even some small businesses during this time to expand as they change their business models.

Economic recovery is not just about the government. Bipartisanship is necessary. And as we move forward, the Minister of Finance has indicated that he will be making sure that we are going to involve, not only members of the government, but also members of the community, and also members of the Opposition inside of this particular endeavor.

Keeping with my pledge that I made to the Opposition Leader to make sure that the Opposition is informed, there was a meeting earlier today, sharing the preliminary modeling information with the Minister of Health, and her team. There will be another meeting that’s going to be held later this week for members of the Opposition to ask additional questions, in addition to the sitting of Parliament which will take place later this week.

However, it’s important to note that the Government’s outreach when it comes to dealing with matters of the economy will not only involve politicians but it must involve all of you, as well. In order to collect thoughts from Bermudians as we move through this COVID-19 era, and look to transition our economy, the government has set up an online forum where members of the public can share their suggestions.

The questions that are being asked are:

  • what laws would you like to see modernized, reformed or introduced to the benefit of Bermuda, as we move past this pandemic?; and
  • what are your ideas to stimulate economic recovery, create jobs and opportunities for Bermudians once the emergency Shelter in Place Order ends?

The questions can be found on forum.gov.bm.

This is going to be administered by the Minister responsible for Communications, Minister Jamal Simmons. This is an opportunity for us to put our collective heads together as we develop ideas that create jobs and stimulate the economy.

So while the Minister is forming an Economic Advisory Council, we want to make sure that all Bermudians can play their part in feeding in to this particular endeavor, as it is going to require significant change as we move past this particular period in our time.

Earlier today, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sports, Minister Lovitta Foggo announced the cancellation of Bermuda Day activities, which will include the half marathon, and the parade. I know this is a disappointment for many, because Bermuda Day for Bermudians signifies the unofficial start of summer. However, the decision was made this far in advance, out of an abundance of caution to ensure the continued health and wellbeing of everyone on the island.

Before I go on to brief updates provided by the Minister of National Security. I would like to speak to those who may be suffering at home with domestic violence.

Unfortunately, when you have orders such as Shelter in Place, you will unfortunately see an increase in the risk of domestic violence. If you are in an unsafe situation, have any concerns for your safety. If you’re being abused, emotionally, sexually, physically, contact the police, or call the Centre Against Abuse at 292 4366, or their 24 hour hotline on 297 8278.

If you’re in a situation where you feel unsafe and you can’t get to a phone, please feel free to leave your house and go to the police or make sure you report in at one of these checkpoints. The last thing that we want is persons to suffer in silence at home, under the hand of domestic abuse.

This government is committed to giving you the support, which you need to get out of an unsafe environment, and we’ll work with our community partners to ensure that you and or your families can have a safe environment, during this crisis. Please do not suffer at home.

Earlier today, I received an update from the Minister of National Security, and I’ll share a few items. The Royal Bermuda Regiment continue their deployment across the island providing support in a variety of capacities.

In conjunction with the Bermuda Police Service, the Community Advisory Points recorded a total of 10,899 stops over a 24-hour period at 20 various locations across the island.  Of these stops, 311 were advised to return home, and one attempted to evade a checkpoint.

In conjunction with the Bermuda Police Service marine officers, soldiers of the Bermuda Coast Guard continue to maintain a daily presence on Bermuda’s waters. Some of yesterday’s Coast Guard patrol activity included redirecting boater activity back to shore as the Shelter in Place Regulations forbid boating activity outside of commercial fishing. The Royal Bermuda Regiment continues to provide support for the transport of hospital staff via the Department of Public Transportation buses.

A quick note regarding the issue of exemptions for the next 14 days of Shelter in Place. The Minister of National Security is working on a process for people to have their Exemptions extended for the further 14 day period, without having to re-apply.

The Minister will provide additional information on this point tomorrow.  In the meantime, please refrain from applying for the extended 14 day curfew period until otherwise notified.

Turning to the government run shelter facility at CedarBridge, which continues to operate on a 24-hour basis.  We are reiterating our call for medical volunteers (nurses and doctors) for the shelter. The contact number for nurses and doctors to volunteer is 707-2223.

We did have an incident at one of the Government Quarantine Facilities. This involved the arrest of one the persons under quarantine and found in possession of a controlled substance. This individual will go through the appropriate court process.

Yesterday, I announced at the shelter in place water will continue until May 2. The rules which have guided actions over the last week and this week, have not changed. Our overall aim is to save lives by limiting the transmission, by reducing non-essential movement of everyone in Bermuda to ensure that the number of COVID-19 positive cases require who hospitalization, to not overwhelm the hospital. The only way we can do that is by persons following instructions and remaining at home.

On Friday, Parliament will meet, and we’ll be passing the extension to the emergency order related to Shelter in Place. There have been suggested modifications that while maintaining social distance and Shelter in Place will help to address some of the concerns that you have expressed surrounding the services available to the public. Those details will be provided by the Minister of National Security at tomorrow’s press briefing, following the conclusion of the Cabinet subcommittee meeting tomorrow.

The enforcement of social distancing is one of the key public health measures that will reduce transmission of this highly contagious disease. And as a reminder, until the Shelter in Place ends on    May 2, you must still remain on your property and can only leave for the permitted uses. And if you do go outside continue to maintain your social distance and make sure that you wear a face covering.

Before I close I just want to note one thing. I did understand that yesterday, an Instagram account that belonged to me was cloned. I want to remind all persons in Bermuda that you will never be asked for money by a Government Minister or anyone in Government online. Do not send money to anyone through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any social media platform. If you have any concerns about any messages you have received, please send an email to stopcybercrimes@gov.com, or you can visit cybertips.bm.

Before I close I’d like to take a few minutes this evening to say my customary thank you to each and every healthcare professional who is on the front line, making sure that Bermuda is effectively dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. To every person who works in public health to every doctor and nurse, who’s working in our hospital or out to the field, are those in private practice. I extend the country’s appreciation to the grocery stores, the pharmacies, the gas stations, their staff together with the dock workers and also the truck drivers who are transporting our wares from the docks to the individual locations.

I also have to mention the public officers who continue to provide services for the government of Bermuda, and the very hardworking team, the Department of Communications, who put on these press conferences and make sure everyone remains informed. In addition, I’d like to thank our team here who are also providing services to the hearing impaired.

The government and the people of Bermuda are truly grateful for the dedication of all the hard working professionals who continue to make sure that this country runs. And from my office to all of you I want to say thank you and please continue to keep up the excellent work, which are providing to all of us.