I am joined today by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson, Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon. Walter Roban and the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Renee Ming. My colleagues will provide an update from their respective ministries. Following that, I will give an update on matters related to the coronavirus.
I want to thank you and your team for the exceptional work that you have been doing over the past few weeks in tackling this outbreak. I am grateful to see the numbers coming down, and I know that if we as a country continue to do what is required, then we can see an end to this outbreak.
Last week Friday we experienced a power failure that affected all of BELCO’s customers. The Deputy Premier is the Minister Responsible for Regulatory Affairs, which includes energy regulation, and will give an update on this matter on behalf of the Government.
Deputy Premier speaks.
Thank you, Deputy, for that update. As of tomorrow, I will be taking a vacation and the Deputy Premier will act in my stead. I am certain that all persons will support him with the decisions that may be required over the Holiday, and I’m certain that he will ensure that all remain informed.
The Minister of National Security will now provide an update from her Ministry and also cover matters related to enforcement of the Public Health Emergency Regulations that have been extended to ensure that we put an end to this outbreak.
Minister Ming Speaks.
Thank you Minister Ming. On Friday you will not only celebrate Christmas but also your Birthday. Wishing you a Happy Birthday on Friday when it comes.
Since reopening our economy and inviting visitors, Bermudians and visitors have fought the coronavirus by wearing masks, practising social distancing, and washing hands frequently.
The Government has managed the pandemic by deploying Public Health Officers at the airport, implementing science-driven protocols and measures to reduce behaviours that spread the coronavirus, and doing all we can to test, test, and test even more.
Yesterday, the US’s Centre for Disease Control issued a travel warning for Bermuda and deemed the level of cases we have as “very high”. We were deemed so because the CDC has a standard where ‘very high’ equals having more than ‘100 cases in 28 days’ and our recent outbreak met the threshold.
While CDC will issue advisories, I must reiterate the statistics given by the Minister of Health, the seven-day average of our real-time reproduction number is less than 1 and Bermuda’s current country status is “Clusters of Cases”. Given that the rate of infection is dropping, we can expect the number of active cases to also decrease, and the number of recoveries will continue to rise; while these are the expectations, our behaviour is the single biggest influence on the data.
We have a track record of robust testing and contract-tracing. We are still one of the safest places to live and visit, since the pandemic's start.
To be clear, I do not believe that this rating accurately reflects our island's current health and safety and that visitors are at high risk of catching the coronavirus. I am confident that, as our cases continue to fall, the CDC will review this rating and make the appropriate adjustments in the future.
Bermudians will be aware that given the number of confirmed cases since the beginning of December, there has also been a substantial increase in the number of persons being tested. In fact, between 3rd December and yesterday, we have conducted and analysed 22,196 tests! You may recall that the government committed to carrying out 1,000 tests per day; our dedicated officers are now averaging over 1,230 tests per day. Well done to them.
Bermuda has the highest per-capita testing rate in the entire world. And it is a reason why we have been able to capture this outbreak, remain at clusters of cases, and we are now beginning to see that the number of positive tests are less.
As the rise in testing has created a greater need for officers to contact trace than at any time previously, the Ministry of Health brought on more officers to communicate with those who were exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. The results show that residents are the vast majority of confirmed cases and not visitors to our island.
If we are in gatherings and we don’t wear a mask, maintain physical distance or observe appropriate hand hygiene, we are more likely to get the virus from a friend, neighbour, relative or coworker than we are from a visitor to Bermuda.
Accordingly, I’d like to take this time to applaud our tireless frontline officers because contact tracing requires empathy and sensitivity; and the news can be frightening for those who receive the calls. The Government sincerely thanks you for your hard work and professionalism.
The Cabinet Committee on the Coronavirus met yesterday to discuss possible changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations that will be in place for the next two weeks. There were a number of requests for changes to make exceptions over the holiday and possible curfew relaxations for New Year’s Eve. There was also a discussion regarding possible enhanced restrictions in light of the new variant of the Coronavirus which, though in the UK is also in many countries around the world.
Following our discussions and after consideration the decision was for there to be no relaxation of restrictions for any days, as we are still in a critical state and the most important thing for the country is to curtail this current outbreak and bring it to an end. The Ministry of Youth, Culture and sport is working with our Gombeys who have agreed to not perform on Boxing Day, to see if there can be safe performances on New Year’s Day. The Deputy Premier will be able to provide more information on that at next week’s press conference.
The only minor change in the regulations that were agreed was for licensed hotels to be able to serve their guests in their facilities after 10 pm. This is only applicable to registered hotel guests, as the current rules require all hotel activity except room service to cease at 10 pm, and the curfew will remain in effect. This change will take effect tomorrow and run through this period of extension.
The Minister of Health has detailed the additional precautions being taken in regards to travellers from the United Kingdom. It is important to note that the Government makes all decisions based upon science.
In today’s media environment it is easy to overreact, and though we have been successful by implementing proactive measures it is important that we remain balanced in our approach and our responses are appropriate and proportionate. Our tests are able to detect someone who may be positive with the new variance, and unlike other countries that have implemented restrictions - every person who enters Bermuda is tested - and that provides an added layer of protection for us.
I also want to remind residents that the unemployment benefits are available for verified employees of bars, nightclubs and members clubs who have had to close due to current COVID
-19 restrictions. Assistance is also available for those who have been required to quarantine by the Ministry of Health and are unable to work from home.
The total benefit for these persons will be $500 per week for the period that these restrictions are in place. The initial benefit of two weeks or $1,000 was paid last week to individuals who have complete application submissions, including verification. Additional payments were made this week and those that have been approved will also receive a payment for the next two weeks as the restrictions have been extended.
We encourage all eligible employees and employers to take the time to properly follow the process to ensure that payments are made on a timely basis. The link to the application form can be found on the top red banner on the Government Website gov.bm.
In addition to support to employers, the BEDC will be providing funding to assist businesses impacted by the new restrictions. The one-time grant relief is a needs-based funding product that will be available specifically for approved bars, nightclubs, members clubs and restaurants as of December 8th, 2020. The relief will be granted on a case-by-case basis. Businesses must be registered with BEDC to apply.
Businesses that are impacted can go online to www.bedc.bm to apply for the emergency grants. Funds will be provided to cover immediate, monthly overhead expenses, excluding salaries which are being met by the Government’s Unemployment Benefit. Approved grants will only be provided for the following overhead expenses: business location rent, utilities, social insurance, and health insurance premiums.
We must continue to do everything we can to contain and manage the virus on our shores. In addition to the measures that we have taken since the winter, we are now using technology to help us.
The WeHealth Bermuda app was launched on December 11, since then almost 17,000 people have downloaded it. To those people, I say thank you. The app is designed to help slow the spread of COVID
-19 by notifying app users of potential exposure. It is one of the most sophisticated apps available anywhere in the world for helping to control and minimize the spread of COVID
-19. When smartphones that have WeHealth Bermuda installed are near each other, the app uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine how close together the devices were, and for how long.
So far 11 people have been confirmed positive who have been using the app. They have been given a random code to put into the app. This means that they have been able to notify people who they were in close proximity for long enough to possibly have transmitted the virus. Due to the private nature of the app, we cannot state how many notifications were sent by these persons who entered the code, as the Government does not have access to that information due to the privacy features which are built into the way this application functions. However, it is good news to note that people are being assisted because of the use of this app. I strongly encourage everyone to download this app. You can learn more about the app by visiting www.gov.bm/wehealth or email CovidApps@Gov.bm.
I am aware that as the number of positive results began to rise, people’s anxiety also increased. I am also aware that the deluge of false and uncorroborated information can create additional anxiety among people, which is why I urge people to only follow official notifications and sources. If you get information that you aren’t sure about - do not forward the information - as they could very likely be false. If you want more details from the Government of Bermuda, visit coronavirus.gov.bm. The information is there and updated regularly.
The government WhatsApp service continues to provide information to the public, and I encourage everyone, if you have not yet signed up for the government's WhatsApp service, please add the phone number, 504-6045, to your contacts and send us a message, a simple message and said ‘hi’, and you will receive updates from the government.
You can also receive notifications through the Government of Bermuda’s Tree Frog app, which can be downloaded from your app store.
To provide support, the Emotional Well-being Hotline is there to assist people with their emotional well-being as they deal with the pandemic’s effects. You will have access to qualified, experienced mental health practitioners to talk to if you’re feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or stressed.
If you need someone to talk with, help is available. The Emotional Wellbeing Hotline is 543-1111. The line is open from now until January 30, 2021, from Monday to Saturday, 5pm to 9pm.
People are encouraged to call the Emotional wellness line. Support is free to everyone who calls, as funding has been made available through the Bermuda Foundation with support from the Health Innovation Fund.
Certainly also affecting our emotional well-being is the fact that we have had to implement a curfew during the period we traditionally spend time, and catch up with family and loved ones, making being alone, or being quarantined even more difficult to bear.
Regrettably, as we have to ask that people do not mix households during Christmas, as we have to curtail Gombeys, and restrict the size of gatherings. These actions are necessary, and though they are tough, it is important that we keep Bermuda safe.
However, leaving aside the ’True Reason for the Season’, I would say that in some regards this Christmas may be more Bermudian than those in the recent past. In the past Bermudian Christmases were wholly about family, food, warmth, and love. But lately, we have gotten lost in iPhones, iPods, and iWants. In 2020, if we cannot buy, maybe we can share; when we cannot visit, maybe we can call; and if we cannot travel, perhaps we can Zoom in our living rooms.
There are Government and Helping Agencies, Churches, and individuals who are skilled and trained in supporting people during tough periods. Utilise their services if you need to, and materially support them if you do not. I want to thank the many organisations who have been working for the last nine months to ensure that we provide support for those in our community who have been affected by the economic impact of this pandemic. Those who provide meals, financial assistance, and support for those who are challenged to make ends meet.
Our corporate community, political community, religious community, and our community organisations have all come together in so many ways to support those in need. It makes me incredibly proud to witness us as a country working together to provide this support.
I know that this has been a difficult and challenging year. We have all had to do things differently. But, we can look back on this year, thankful for everything we have accomplished. I am thankful for us coming together as a country to work in a unified fashion to tackle this virus.
Christmas in Bermuda is about sharing meals and spending time with your family and friends. The safest way to celebrate during this holiday season would be with your immediate household practising safe distancing, in a Christmas Bubble.
Please be safe and please remember to protect the vulnerable and our senior citizens. We must continue to shield our elders and the vulnerable, and continue to treat all persons as if they may be asymptomatic carriers of this virus.
In closing, Bermuda I have no doubt that we will get through this latest outbreak and we will be able to a sense of normalcy. Let’s take this time and this holiday to reconnect with family and relax after what has unquestionably been an incredibly stressful year.
From my family to yours, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and on behalf of the Government of Bermuda, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. May God bless you and your family. May your holidays be safe, peaceful and filled with joy.