22 April COVID-19 Update
Good evening Bermuda.
I hope that you and your families are well, and you missed us coming into your living rooms yesterday. Your Government has been hard at work, and I’m happy to be joining you again today to provide you an update, and to answer your questions.
Today, we will have the latest update from the Minister of Health, on the current number of cases on island, and the Minister of National Security will provide an update on matters surrounding the Shelter in Place. I will then touch on some matters relevant to small business, and we’ll be happy to take questions from the media.
There has been no greater champion of the importance of testing than myself. From the beginning of this pandemic, and even before it was declared as such, I’ve been convinced that the only way to adequately respond, and make it through this pandemic is to test, test, test. From the early days that has been our focus, and I now know far more about molecular testing than I ever dreamed I would. The knowledge that widespread testing brings informed decisions that we are required to make as a Government, and increases the understanding of our community. And the simple fact is that widespread testing is a necessary prerequisite to open our economy.
So no one is more disappointed than I am, when we have not been able to test as aggressively as I know that we need to. It has been an uphill battle to ramp up testing, full of disappointments, which I shared with you earlier. But, I’m confident that we have turned that page and can do the testing required for us to be better informed about where we are as a country.
There are identified high risk areas and throughout this period I have consistently focused our policy to ensure that this demographic is tested to protect the vulnerable, to protect those who care for them, and to protect their families.
I believe that the Ministry of Health sees the value and importance of testing, and so this meeting of the minds between policy and administration is critical to advancing the testing regime, so desperately needed now. Though, we have tested a great deal of persons, we certainly need to test more. Today, as some have done, we can point fingers. Today, as some have done, we can seek to assign blame or today, we can do as some have sought to do to extract that pound of flesh that some may find satisfying. Or we can fix what went wrong and move forward.https://bermudaredcross.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=8624&action=edit&classic-editor#
Make no mistake, despite the hard work that each and every member of our team, and despite the fatigue and stress that we are all under, we recognize that when we make a decision, people’s lives depend on that decision, and if the decision is made, that may not be in the best interest of the country, people could get sick, and people may die. That weighs on us, and it weighs on me every single day.
There are some in Bermuda, who will seek to return to the pre COVID-19 atmosphere of petty politics as usual. Do what you feel you must. Right now my interest is not in scoring political points, and not in gaining that political advantage. Our sole interest is in saving and preserving lives.
With every day that passes, we learn more and more about how we can manage this pandemic. We have listened and remain flexible, enabling us to adapt quickly, and to respond whenever we identify a different or better way to do things. We are humble enough to say, when we don’t know at all, and strong enough to say that despite this, we take responsibility for everything that happens on our watch.
That is why I’m so gratified that when we have asked for help, like when we needed assistance in locating swabs, there were those in the community that assisted the country.
On Friday, we will launch the multi-lane, drive thru facility at Southside that will begin to test our essential workers. This is made possible due to the dedicated efforts of Dr. Carika Weldon, and her team of young Bermudian scientists.
For many years young Bermudians have fought to be recognized for their education, their intellect and their talents. I know full well, as I used to be one. However, with my mature grey look, I am pleased and proud to say that this dramatic increase in testing is as a result of Dr Weldon’s passion and love of country.
She’s a product of the Bermuda Institute, Port Royal Primary School and Warwick Academy. She achieved her Bachelors of Science, with Honors in Medical Biochemistry and a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Leicester.
Dr. Weldon in a Bernews interview stated, and I quote, “I’m the product of the rock, and home island which I love so much. I am a young, black Bermudian Biochemist, who is set to conquer the world of science, one step at a time.”
When your country is at war, like we are versus COVID-19, we need all hands on deck. That means the old way of telling young, educated, intelligent, talented Bermudians that they are not good enough, that they need to stand on the sidelines and they need to take their talents elsewhere to make a meaningful contribution is over. I am grateful that Dr. Weldon was willing to return home and contribute her talents on the war against COVID-19.
The results speak for themselves with the over 200 results delivered from the Bermuda Government Molecular Diagnostics Lab for the testing done this weekend. I am thankful to her and the entire team that have made our increase testing capability possible.
As leader of this country, I will continue to celebrate our young people, our talented young people, as I know, far too well what it’s like to be celebrated overseas, but having to fight for respect in your home country. Not in the Bermuda that I lead. And if it takes this virus to turn that page, then our country will be the better for it.
Now, the Minister of Health will provide an update from her Ministry. Minister.
The Minister of Health’s Statement
- there are 55 active cases, of which
- 44 persons are under active public health monitoring, and
- 11 persons are hospitalized;
- a total of 39 have now recovered, and
- the total deceased remains at 5.
The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 56 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 91 years. The age of persons hospitalized ranges between 57 and 91 years, and the average age is 74.
As the public is aware three confirmed COVID cases were found at Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home. We have been working closely with the Administrator since the first case was identified on 10th April and have now started the process to test all residents and staff.
As was said yesterday, the first case was identified on April 10 and that individual has been in quarantine until today. All close contacts were also quarantined. Guidance was given by the Ministry of Health to the home to quarantine four members of staff who had been in close contact with that individual. All staff were monitoring their temperature daily, wearing a mask throughout their shifts and wearing work uniform during working hours only. Since then, there were two further cases identified on 14 April and 20 April respectively.
I know there are questions about why the entire home was not tested earlier, with the first case identified on 10th April. When it occurred, case criteria was not met given the testing capacity at that time. The second case was unrelated to the first and isolated fully. It is now that we have the capacity to test more extensively that we are doing so.
Further actions taken by the Ministry of Health Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit with respect to providing support to Westmeath included:
- Meeting with the acting Executive Director
- Provided guidance on the strategy to manage the outbreak on receipt of test and other investigation results
- PPE training is being arrange
- Supplies are being provided as needed
- Working with the home with respect to infection, prevention and control practices
- Additional outbreak control and mitigation measures are recommended as below:
- Keep families, staff and residents informed about the outbreak
- No new resident admissions are allowed until the outbreak is over
- Monitor residents for any new respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) or fever;
- Quickly identify and isolate any resident with symptoms of acute respiratory illness or fever;
- Report any suspected COVID-19 illness or new respiratory illness/fever in residents or staff to the Ministry of Health
- Discontinue all non-essential activities;
- Discontinue all communal activities/gatherings;
- Where possible, encourage family members to keep in touch with loved ones by phone or video chat or other technologies, as available.
As has been explained previously, testing capacity is complex and Bermuda had been in a challenging position due to the global shortage of supplies. We are relieved that we now have more extensive capacity and are able to ramp up our testing regime.
The Ministry and Bermuda Health Council have been working diligently with all care homes on the island to control the spread of the virus among our most vulnerable.
Having increased our testing capacity this week, we are now undertaking to conduct testing in all rest homes as a matter of priority.
Thank you very much, Minister Wilson.
Now the Minister of National Security will provide his update. Minister.
The Minister of National Security
The Bermuda Police Service continues to execute arrests for shelter in place breaches – and these are primarily for overnight curfew offences. However they are lower in number than seven (7) days ago which is an indication that the vast majority of our community is complying with the regulations.
The daily Community Advisory Points continue across the island supported by the RBR and BPS. On Monday (April 20) there were 11,477 and yesterday (April 21) there were 10,786 stops. The BPS are also focusing on supporting “our senior community, and are making visits to those most vulnerable to ensure they are safe.
Anyone with information about a senior they may be concerned about or have not seen recently to contact the BPS who will make enquiries. Minister Caines indicated that the BPS have also seen a rise in online scams. Further advice and guidance can be obtained via the Government’s Cyber tips website – www.cybertips.bm.
The Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation (DRRM) Team have completed their latest management of the five Government Quarantine facilities. Over the course of this week, including tomorrow, individuals who have been housed at these facilities have either been: 1) discharged to return home with specific guidelines from the Department of Health; or 2) if they have not received an all clear from the Department of Health they will continue to quarantine until such approval is given.
The DRRM Team in partnership with the Customs Department, is in the process of preparing to receive returning residents on the British Airways flight which arrives on Friday evening. It’s planned that the passengers will be landed airside by the Immigration Department to minimize contact with our Customs Officers. The Customs department will work alongside of the Port Health Team as needed. From a safety standpoint, each officer conducting inspection duties will have appropriate PPE. I want to take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation to the Collector of Customs and her team, and each and every Customs Officer working to ensure that the critical services they provide operate smoothly. The Ministry is appreciative of your dedication and sacrifice.
Regarding the Shelter in Place 71 approvals have been granted for specific businesses to operate. These businesses have very strict guidelines in place and must adhere to them at all times. If they deviate from the guidelines, they will be shutdown. The public can visit the Government website on www.gov.bm/coronavirus-forms to see what businesses have been granted permission to operate. Any business that opens contrary to the Emergency Powers (Shelter in Place) Regulations is liable to prosecution.
I can advise that starting tomorrow, the BPS Traffic Wardens and Court Bailiffs will be ensuring that approved businesses in and around the City of Hamilton are complying with the COVID-19 Exemption regulations. This included making sure that businesses and customers are practicing social distancing and also ensuring that approved businesses are opening and closing at the correct times.
Our officers continue to operate on a reduced regime. Visits to our facilities by vendors and other external agencies including government departments have been put on hold unless it is an emergency and these visits are approved by the Acting Commissioner. Additionally, non-security staff continue to work remotely. Staffing levels have not been impacted and staff continue to carry out their duties professionally despite the challenges that we face. In lieu of regular face to face visits, virtual visits for the inmates have started and have been well-received. Staff and inmates alike are concerned about the potential implications of COVID-19 in our facilities as well as the impact on the island in general. However the department continues to ensure that every effort is taken to mitigate any risks of the disease affecting our staff and/or inmates.
Lastly, I must extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all our officers on the frontlines working to keep Bermuda safe. As a Ministry, we must do all that we can to protect them. So I can confirm that over the next few days we will begin the process of testing the members of our uniformed services for COVID-19. These include the Bermuda Police Service, the Royal Bermuda Regiment, the Customs Department, the Department of Corrections, the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service and the Department of Immigration.
Thank you very much Minister.
Last week, Erica Smith, the Executive Director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation was here, giving details of what the organization is doing to help small and medium sized business. The Government’s primary focus during COVID-19 is to limit the possibility of the transmission of the virus to ensure that it does not overwhelm our healthcare system, it is not to thwart economic activity.
We are aware, that prior to the Shelter in Place, several retailers made arrangements to be able to fulfill orders, while at home. Essentially, becoming a home-based business. It has to be noted that according to the law, home-based businesses can still operate, if they’re using approved delivery services. It’s important to note, clearly, if you’re a home-based business no one can visit your particular home. There are approved delivery services that can be contacted to be able to pick up orders from your home, and delivered to you.
As Minister Caines said, the listing of approved services can be found on the Government website, which is a dynamic form which will be automatically updated once new services are approved. I’ve asked the Minister to also make use of our taxi drivers who are at home right now, in many instances collecting unemployment benefits and we want them to make sure that they can take advantage of the opportunity to try to deliver more items as we begin to gradually allow more economic activity.
However, I do recognize the challenge of Bermuda-based small businesses, when they see courier companies advertising for locals to order online and bring items into Bermuda when they cannot shop locally. That of course defeats the purpose of us trying to work together as a unified country.
The reason why shipping and freight companies were opened up were to clear items off of the docks, as they were a large number of containers that were backing up. And this was for persons who bring in larger items though the docks, with freight forwarders. The reason was not to allow persons to engage in new rounds of online shopping for things that they cannot buy in Bermuda because the stores are closed.
It is important that the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, and the Government of Bermuda support our local online business, and therefore what I have asked, is that the Minister of National Security ensure that all new non-essential packages that are coming in through air courier services may not be cleared until after the Shelter in Place has gone up.
Also, we are looking to, and this is the conversation that we had in Cabinet yesterday, which I’ve asked for the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation to do, is look at how we could possibly allow small businesses that are only staffed by persons from a single household, to be able to possibly go and fulfill orders that may be placed online, so they can go ahead and participate in economic activity.
The reason why I say that it’s important to recognize persons from not more than one household, transmission, risk happens when you have persons that are intermixing from various households in a particular location, and then they go back to their own households. If there is, for instance, a business that is operating where there are persons from one household, which is something that we may be able to allow, and of course that will be able to happen under regulations after Shelter in Place.
But over the next week, the last thing I want is for local Bermudian small businesses to be disadvantaged, and that is not the spirit of what we were trying to do.
Additionally, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation has worked tirelessly to provide small and medium sized business with sustainability and business continuity packages, utilizing the $12 million in funding from the Government.
In addition, they’ll be using their existing $12 million capacity to provide small and medium sized businesses with loan guarantees, and overdraft guarantees for a total of $24 million in support. Now I understand that some business owners have expressed frustration with the fact that the grant funds that had been allocated are tied to a loan. And I can appreciate the frustration that some may feel, and I recognize every day in this job that unfortunately, we will not be in a position to please everyone.
I would like to note that to date, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation has received requests for support for over 150 businesses, and thus far, many of those requests came in prior to the grant component being provided and announced as it was on Monday. For those that say they need a grant, I’m here to clarify that the first deployment of Bermuda Government grant relief to businesses was by way of the unemployment benefit directly distributed to the employment of businesses island wide who were closed down.
This relief has been a great help to businesses faced with trying to figure out how to assist their employees during this trying time. Second, if you apply for a business, sustainability and continuation loan and grant program offered through the BEDC and you are approved, half of the money, of which you receive will not have been paid back. Therefore, in effect, you are receiving a grant.
Let me give an example, and to clarify how this works. If you are a small business that has an annual revenue, up to $100,000, and have less than three employees, then you can borrow up to $10,000. Of the $10,000 that you receive, you will only have to pay back $5,000 at an interest rate of 3.5%. With a payback of 42 months, the monthly payment is $122.66 and total interest paid would only be $319. The first loan payment is due three months after the disbursement of the funds, and then the next three months are interest only at only $15 a month.
The business can then ask for an extension for interest only for another three months, so it is conceivable that this businesses may not start repaying these loans until 2021.
As you can see, this should be very achievable for most businesses that have plans to continue to operate post COVID-19, and from the number of applications received for help, we think that a majority of the business owners in Bermuda are grateful for this assistance programme which has been launched.
We are all in this together, and as an entrepreneur, I recognize that COVID-19 is no-one’s fault, and the way in which we come out on the other side of this pandemic in a positive way, has to be a joint effort. The Government is giving support, and we would hope that the business community will continue to give its support as well.
We want to help you during these times, and it is important, and that is the reason why we have made $12 million in funding available through this loan and grant programme. The Bermuda Economic Development Corporation will provide public updates on a regular basis on how many businesses have been approved, what size, what industry, what bands, and the split between direct loans, direct grants, guarantee loans, and guaranteed overdrafts, so you’re aware how these funds have been distributed. I’m pleased that they have come up with this programme, and I’m certain that this programme will certainly be better than the assistance that persons may receive if they were going to a commercial bank.
Going to the third sector before I close, I’m pleased to share with you that over $1 million has been raised for the Bermuda Emergency Fund, with more monies coming in every day. This money has almost been fully allocated, and earmarked to help Bermudians during this unprecedented time.
Every week more than 7,000 meals, grocery vouchers, and bags of groceries are being distributed. Safe spaces for victims of domestic violence are available. The homeless shelter is serving many people in need, every night, and there are success stories as the Minister of National Security can share from those persons who are receiving mental health treatment and counseling at our shelter.
Funds are being used to support these and other essential services to Bermudian families to help them get through these difficult times. Thank you to all of the corporations, families, and individuals who have contributed to this life saving emergency efforts, including sourcing and funding, extra support from the hospital, seniors homes and to the providers of key services to our vulnerable population.
Thank you also to all of the non-profit organizations that work hard to deliver critical and essential services, ramping up their programmes to meet client needs, and to serve the larger community.
And whilst we’re attending to these emergency meetings we must not forget that there are services and programs that will be important to our vitality as a country, when we emerge from Shelter in Place. These service providers are making the shift to virtual technology, and finding new ways to deliver enrichment programs, youth development activities, together with services for people with disabilities and special needs.
Words cannot adequately express how I feel, to see the entire country coming together to make a difference for those in need. When I think of hurricanes and how we gather as a community to make sure we’re all taken care of, this period of our history has shown, even greater unity and sense of purpose and we have a strength and generosity of spirit to help each other.
Before I take questions, I would like to once again thank everyone involved in protecting the health and safety of our community. Thank everyone involved for keeping our community fed and sheltered, and thank everyone who is living up to the adage that I am my brother’s keeper.
Now as I share at the end of my statements, I get in trouble for not thanking everyone, and it is impossible to thank everyone and so I get messages – “Well, you didn’t thank me today you didn’t thank me today” and all the rest. I do want to say a special thank you to the team that actually works for me, and has been working incredibly hard.
That is the Government’s Information, the IT team the Information and Digital Technologies team in the Government of Bermuda, and also the digital services team within the Department of Communications, who has worked so hard to transition, the Government to an online government. When you see these forms which are being created. When you see the dynamic listing of permitted companies that have been put in place. When you see the fact that the Government is communicating over WebEx and making sure that the Government functions continue to run and making sure that we ramp up online services – there are a lot of hard working men and women who are working long hours, at late hours to make sure that happens.
I just wanted to extend to them, my personal gratitude. They get called out at all hours of the day, and sometimes the morning, to make sure that we can get our meetings done online, and to make sure that the technology can continue to work. They’re responsible for making sure we had our online Parliament last week and continue to work very hard. So I just wanted to express a word of thanks to them.
Before I take questions I will access all continue to pray for the families who have lost loved ones and also continue to pray for those who have confirmed positive with COVID-19, and are battling the disease, whether it be in hospital or at home.