Premier Burt's remarks on the Bermuda Government COVID-19 Press Conference 1 December
Good afternoon Bermuda, and welcome to members of the media who have joined us today.
I am joined, at our weekly press conference, by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, who will be providing an update to the public on the latest from her Ministry including the latest test results and proposed changes to travel requirements. Following that I will give an update on matters related to education, steps we all must take to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and an update on the WeHealth app pilot. First we will go to the Minister of Health. Minister.
Thank you, Minister Wilson for your update. I also want to again thank you and to commend your team for your work over the past week as we have dealt with this outbreak.
The Ministry of Health team, led by the Minister of Health, worked countless hours over the weekend, late into the night and they have been going at this for nine or ten months. They deserve all of our gratitude and the best thing we can do for them is to continue the work which we must all do which is to observe the guidance.
There is no need to sugar coat where we are. Having gone weeks without a single confirmed case, and then experiencing sporadic cases, we now have clusters of cases - and seven cases that are still under investigation. This means that people have caught the virus although they, nor anyone in their immediate circle, has any immediate links to travel; they were exposed to someone who was infected here, on-island – and we have not been able to determine the source, as yet.
Good news is through the good work being done by the team at the Ministry of Health, there are less cases under investigation today, than there were yesterday.
Since the pandemic began, our decisions and all of the restrictions that were imposed were put in place based on guidance from the Ministry of Health and best practices from other jurisdictions who were managing the pandemic well, with one goal in mind, to ensure our healthcare system was not overwhelmed and to ensure we do not see a large number of deaths on our shores.
Over the past few weeks there has been a great deal of attention placed on our schools. Decisions about the schools were not taken lightly. The Ministry of Education works closely with and follows the guidance of the Department of Health. Each school, each case, each circumstance is different.
This government will always keep the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff a priority. Going forward, to reduce anxiety and stress, if there is a confirmed positive case within a public school, I have recommended to the Minister of Education that in-person learning, at that school, be suspended immediately. It is important to note that this means a confirmed positive in the school, not a close contact, or not a student, staff or teacher who may be a close contact, which would only require selective quarantine, as we saw in the case of West End, Paget and St. Georges Prep. The Minister of Education has indicated that tomorrow morning he will be convening the inaugural Education Emergency Measures Committee (EEMC) to confirm the new policy which will bring clarity. While in-person classes are suspended the following will take place:
Students and teachers, in necessary, will be tested;
The school will be deep cleaned; and
The Department of Health will advise when the school is ready for reopening for in person classes following their assessment.
Health and Education will continue to work closely to ensure they provide timely, accurate information to the principals, teachers, staff, parents and students. Likewise ,I encourage all students and staff with the support of parents to follow the Bermuda public schools safety and health protocols.
This Government’s goal is to continue to strike the right balance so that we can continue to enjoy our ability to earn and our children have the ability to learn – while keeping our country safe.
Many have contacted me requesting that I immediately revert the country back into Shelter in Place; or asking the Government to close the airport to scheduled commercial flights; wondering when another curfew will be put in place; and unfortunately due to rumour people have started panic buying again.
Let me be clear…right now, we do not see a need to bring back Shelter in Place or even to revert to curfews; however circumstances can change quickly.
This Government made a choice. A choice to have some form of a tourism season in order to ensure that thousands were able to return back to work. Yes, there are some who feel that we should not have done this - but that is the decision that we took for the collective of the country.
Now is the time we all support our fellow Bermudians in the hospitality and tourism sectors, persons who are not salaried who rely on hourly wages and cannot work remotely. We must support them by all doing our part.
How we move forward will depend on the actions each of us take over the next two weeks. Between now and the middle of December will be critical in determining if we are able to continue to move around freely or go backwards and introduce further restrictions on activities. I know no one wants to go backwards, especially over our Christmas holidays.
Our students are returning from overseas where in many places record infections of the coronavirus are being experienced. It is important that all persons are disciplined and practice increased vigilance to ensure they are not a source of infections for their family or friends.
We are aware that some people are returning from overseas travel and not sticking to the quarantine requirements. As the Minister of Health alluded to, the Cabinet considered new measures today to deal with these challenges, and they will be announced by the Minister of Health in the House of Assembly on Friday morning via a Ministerial Statement. The Minster will consult with our Parliamentary colleagues, business and tourism groups prior to the announcement of these further actions.
Given the unfortunate nature of the situation overseas, it is likely that these may include further restrictions of persons who arrive in Bermuda from overseas. Our testing regime worked well when the situation overseas was more managed, where we were not seeing record infections and in some cases positivity rates exceeding 50%. But the recent spikes mean that we must take more actions to protect our country.
It is important that we all continue to adhere to public health guidance that is designed to keep us safe. I have received calls and messages to my office, detailing people at venues and social events not wearing masks.
As a reminder, if you see activities taking place that are in violation of the laws that are in place to keep up all safe, please call 211 and advise the Bermuda Police Service who will take appropriate measures. If the activity takes place within a local establishment, you are encouraged first to address the issue directly with the appropriate manager.
Some residents have expressed frustration that the 211 number has rung busy when they have called. As of tomorrow, the Bermuda Police Service will add additional resources to manage the volume of calls and to support us all doing our part to make sure that we remain safe.
As I have said repeatedly and as the Minister of Health has said repeatedly, this is not the time to relax. Unfortunately, many of the infections that we have seen over the last few weeks could be due to persons not following the rules and not following the guidance, especially workplace guidance. Quite simply, they were avoidable. These protocols will prevent the spread of the coronavirus and can save lives. As I stated last week, the virus only survives if we let it survive. If we follow the simple measures to mitigate virus spread, Bermuda will be OK.
There are people who have the coronavirus this week, who didn’t have it last week. This is a worrying, stressful, and frightening time for them and for their family members. We must hold them in our thoughts and prayers as they move towards recovery.
Many in our community, including our leaders, are feeling the stress of living in a pandemic era. We are reminded daily to wear a mask, to wash our hands, ensure that we stand six feet away from others. I have heard from many people who have expressed their frustration and are just tired of this. As the Minister of Health said, we do not have that much longer, as there is help that is on the way but we must continue to do what we have been doing better and to continue it to ensure that we can reduce this current outbreak.
We all remember what life was like last year this time. Many recall what we did to prepare for Christmas. Like every holiday and every celebration this year, Christmas will be different. Some families are considering eating outdoors. Those who would have traveled are investigating virtual gatherings. And yes, we all have to be creative. We must do everything we can to ensure that we do not contract the virus or create opportunities where it is spread in social and other settings.
To prevent the spread of the virus we must do the following:
· Unless it is absolutely necessary, please do not travel over the Christmas and New Year holiday;
· If you must travel, take extra precautions while abroad;
· If you have returned from travel and even if you have had negative tests, we ask that you are careful. That means to ensure you do not attend large gatherings; do not use a gym; be sure to protect babies and seniors and persons with chronic conditions. Do not go near to those persons who may be vulnerable.
The key point to remember, in all of this that we are experiencing, is that the decisions that are made by the Government are based on comprehensive, scientific, and data-driven evidence. In turn, you should only make decisions that have been communicated through official Government channels by a Government official or a Public Health official. As the Minister of Health has said, it is not helpful if you are communicating methods directly or person’s information directly to others. The Department of Health has a team, that is expert in doing this, that is expert in managing our privacy and making sure that people’s privacy is protected.
Those of you who create and share voice notes and messages that create panic and increase anxiety are not helping. So, please, if it’s not official, I ask you not to forward it.
That much being said, the Government can and must do a better job with timely communication and in some instances over the last week, the communication has been slower than it needs to be.
I apologize for this, certainly and the anxiety this caused and I certainly pledge to work to do better. I am grateful, however to our dedicated and hardworking communications team here at the Department of Communications that has worked day and night, weekends and late nights to ensure that we can keep the public updated. I want to thank them for their dedicated work and their dedicated efforts.
Moving to the WeHealth app. Since I announced the WeHealth Bermuda pilot during last week’s press conference, over 2,000 persons have downloaded the app. WeHealth Bermuda, is a free smartphone application that provides completely anonymous COVID
-19 exposure notifications.
The Bermuda pilot is going well and as planned. If you haven’t already downloaded the app, visit the Apple App store or Google Play and download it today. Just type in WeHealth Bermuda. Visit gov.bm/wehealthpilot for more information.
The Department of Health, in collaboration with IDT Digital Services and WeHealth, are continuing to thoroughly test the app. Recently, simulations designed to recreate real-life dining scenarios were conducted at a local restaurant. These tests went as expected.
Those who have downloaded the app may see a message that says, “This region is currently not fully supported by the app”. That message is intentional, as the pilot region is being utilized for continued tests. Once we fully exit the pilot and launch the app for the Bermuda-wide roll out, that message will be changed.
Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback on their WeHealth Bermuda experience so far. If you would like to provide additional feedback, send an email to email@example.com.
Although we are still in the final stages of testing the app, we welcome all Bermudians and visitors to download the app ahead of the full launch from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Once you download and install the app on your smartphone, there is nothing else to do. No registration. No need to enter your phone number, email address, etc. As I said, it is completely anonymous.
Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download the app ahead of the full launch, too.
As a reminder, WeHealth Bermuda will run on iPhone models 6S and above. Android users can use the app if their phone supports Bluetooth Low Energy and Android Version 6 or above.
And a reminder, the application is completely anonymous.
I will close as I always do with a reminder for those who are experiencing anxiety, stress, depression or other challenges, there is help available. You can get help and you do not have to suffer in silence. Please. If you need to speak to someone, contact the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543 1111. I’ll repeat that, 543 1111. It is important that we pay attention to our mental health as well as our physical health. I want to thank the persons who continue to monitor the emotional wellbeing hotline, for the work they’re doing for our community.
That concludes my remarks this evening and I’m happy to take questions from members of the media.