27 August COVID-19 Update

Thursday, August 27th, 2020
Embedded video for 27 August COVID-19 Update

Good afternoon Bermuda, I’m sorry for being a few minutes late this evening. Thank you members of the media for your attendance today.

For today’s press conference, I am joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson; the Minister of National Security the Hon. Renee Ming, the Minister of Education, the Hon. Diallo Rabain and the Minister of Labour, the Hon. Jason Hayward.

First up, I’d like to invite the Minister of Health to give an update on matters from her ministry and also changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations that were approved by the Cabinet when it met on Tuesday. Minister of Health.

Minister reads her statements.

Thank you very much Minister of Health. Much appreciation certainly to the work and efforts of your entire Ministry of Health team who have scaled up Bermuda’s testing and continued to ensure that we set an example to the rest of the world.

Next will be the Minister of National Security who will provide an update on matters within her ministry including the enforcement of the changes to the Public Health Emergency Regulations, announced by the Minister of Health.

Minister reads her statements.

Thank you, Minister Ming. The country is certainly grateful to the work of your ministry and the front line workers for their service during the pandemic.

As school gets ready to go back in, the Minister of Education is here to provide an update on the work being done to enable the safe reopening of our public schools.

Minister of Education reads his statement.

Thank you very much Minister Rabain. Certainly, great work by your team consisting of the team at the Ministry, the Department of Education, principals, teachers, support staff, the wider government for the assistance in putting together the plan to ensure that our schools can safely reopen. I am certain that many parents, including myself, are looking forward to September 14.

The final minister to speak before I close will be Minister Hayward, who will discuss the continued financial support in place for persons who have found themselves unable to work due to the pandemic and the work his ministry is doing to streamline the process of that assistance. Minister.

Minister Hayward reads his statement.

Thank you Minister Hayward. I’m grateful for the work you and your ministry continue to do to ensure those who require assistance get the assistance they need.

With my remarks tonight, I would first like to start with a topic which is on many persons’ mind and that is the General Election. I would like to advise that I spoke with the Governor this week to assure him the Parliamentary Registrar will be supplied with whatever she deems necessary in order to ensure the country has a safe election. That is whatever PPE supplies or other materials are necessary.

The Parliamentary Registrar will meet with the Ministry of Health and put in place the appropriate protocols for every polling station. In addition to that, I advised the Governor that whatever testing capacity is necessary or needed, we will work to ensure that it is delivered. So there is no question about a safe exercise of democracy.

The Parliamentary Registry Office will also have strict guidelines in place when they visit members of our community who are sick and shut in and who would like to vote. The Parliamentary Registrar will share that guidance in the coming weeks.

Before I move on, I want to say this – we have adjusted our lives to grocery shop safely, we have changed the way we worship to do so safely, and for the most part we have socialized safely. I have every confidence that we can vote safely too.

Secondly, I can advise that because of significant amendments to the Parliamentary Election Act that the Government passed in July, this election will be the fairest and most inclusive in Bermuda’s history.

Prior to the amendments, there was no provision for visually impaired voters to exercise their right in private; according to our most recent census, this development will affect more than 2,300 Bermudians. To ensure their ballot was not spoiled, visually impaired or blind voters required an officer to oversee them marking their ballot. While the intent was to ensure a physical disability did not prevent a voter from exercising their right, it was neither an ideal nor independent process.

Accordingly, the Parliamentary Registrar has authorized the use of devices that allow voters to select their preferred candidate after an audio prompt; the device brings equality to the process.

As I am speaking about expanding the right to vote, the amendments also gave the Registrar the power to enlarge the category of persons who can vote at an Advanced Poll; previously, only people who were travelling and would not be on-island or those involved in working at the for the Election could vote in advance. I should advise that this year the Advanced Poll will take place during the week of 14 September.

In the past, travelers had to take proof of travel to the Registrar, days before the Poll and they would receive a certificate. On the day, they would take the certificate to the Advanced Poll and vote. Now voters only need to bring a hardcopy of their travel documents to the Advanced Poll, and assuming the documents are valid, they will be issued a certificate on site and allowed to vote.

Another significant amendment is related to COVID-19. In an attempt to reassure seniors and reduce risks to their health and wellbeing, seniors will be allowed to vote at the Advanced Poll. The major benefit is there are significantly fewer people, meaning more time can be given to assist seniors. The Government considered this option after consultation with the Parliamentary Registrar and Health officials and concluded this the best way to balance the exercise of voting rights with the exercise of caution.

And finally, for the first time parolees will be able to vote. In Bermuda, incarcerated individuals do not have the right to vote generally as voting is considered a right of living in community or society. However, when someone is released on parole and therefore not incarcerated, they still did not have the right to vote until their full sentence had expired; in 2020, parolees now have the right to vote.

As I move on to the management of the pandemic, from a technology perspective, it is important to know that technology will be ever more important as we look to manage the impacts of the virus going forward.

Our information and digital technology team has been working hard to launch a pilot of our own Bluetooth contact tracing app using the protocol developed by Apple and Google. The app has been developed by CovidWatch, a non-profit organization that evolved out of a research collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Waterloo.

The CovidWatch app is presently being used for a pilot with the University of Arizona, prior to the adoption by the state of Arizona and is being considered for additional pilots within universities in California. The app itself uses the Apple Google protocol which was developed in accordance with leading global research to ensure privacy in contract tracing efforts and it will be launched and managed by CovidWatch, and not by the Government of Bermuda directly.

The Health team will be provided with the ability to generate a unique code that can be shared with an individual who has tested positive which will notify any users that individual was in close contact with and could be at risk, without any indication of who it has come from, or the location or date of the potential exposure, so preserving full anonymity. Those notified individuals would be encouraged to contact the Health team to assist with monitoring and treatment should they develop the virus. By design, the government itself does not collect or have access to any details related to whom you were in contact with or where, which will be signed off on by the Privacy Commissioner before launch. So it is important to note we have designed and taken the time to make sure that we get this right.

There have been many countries with these things have been attempted but because they rushed these things to get them out to market, they did not take into account all of the considerations. We have made sure that we have put this in place in combination with research universities in the United States and Canada. They will be managing this for us so we know that we will have the best of breed app that preserves privacy so we will have the widest possible penetration to allow more of us to go about our routines.

Putting on my Tourism hat, I would like to acknowledge the Bermuda Business Development Agency and the Bermuda Tourism Authority staff are creatively working to ensure the world knows that we are open for busines and a safe jurisdiction. We are beginning to see increased airline capacity and next month we will have double the capacity that we had in July, and we are forecasting to be at 60% capacity in October.

Yesterday I was able to participate in a webinar jointly hosted by the BDA and the BTA and the World Travel and Tourism Council, with over 100 participants. I discussed our Work from Bermuda campaign and was on a panel with someone who had applied, approved and has already moved to Bermuda. Capitalizing on our innovation, safety, and agility to quickly create this initiative is exactly what Bermuda has been known for – originality and leadership.

Another important development for the tourism industry and for Bermuda as a whole, is the reopening of the Hamilton Princess tomorrow. Once it reopens, Bermuda will be at just over 60% of our available hotel inventory with many more Bermudians going back to work to be able to provide for their families. These impressive results can only be achieved because the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport, the Airport Authority, and the BTA have come together to work in unison for Bermuda. We have a long way to go, but the recovery of our tourism industry is well underway.

Since March, the chief objective of our COVID-19 government press conferences has been to provide information that keeps our community safe. Bermuda has delivered on that safety mission better than almost any place else in the world. You don’t have to take my word for it.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control improved the island’s ranking to Level 2 – one of only four places in the world assessed with a moderate risk level. It is a very short list. We should be proud of Bermuda’s collective efforts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office tells British travellers that Bermuda is safe, when they return from Bermuda, they do not have to return to a 14 day quarantine.

And tonight, I’m pleased to announce for the first time, the World Travel & Tourism Council has designated Bermuda as a “Safe Travels” destination. This special designation means Bermuda has adopted health and hygiene standards that meet the highest global protocols. And now, our country will have the privilege of using the “Safe Travels” stamp—a seal quickly becoming highly recognised and valued around the world because health safety has never been so important to travellers.

The CDC, the FCO and the World Travel and Tourism Council, all of these third-party evaluations confirm what our community already knows and what our Bermuda Tourism Authority and our Bermuda Business Development Agency will share with the world, that Bermuda is safer.

This, of course, is really is good news for our tourism industry and it will be shared around the world. But that good news started here at home. If our community had not followed the rules and made sacrifices, there’s no chance that Bermuda would have found itself so far ahead of other countries. As the Minister responsible for tourism, I offer my thanks to all of you. And without question, I know that there’s a group of people that also thank Bermudians for doing what is necessary. They are the many hotel workers who have been able to return back to work to provide for their families.

And as summer kicked in and as we were able to safely reopen our economy, many people -particularly younger people have seemingly become complacent and are socializing, partying, and rafting-up without taking the proper care. There is worldwide acknowledgement that the second waves that are beginning to impact countries are due to the behaviour of young people being carefree which is a perk of youth.

I wish to warn those who think this is the time to be cavalier. While you may wish to take risks, if you are not wearing a mask, if you are breaking quarantine, if you are gathered in a place where there is no social distancing being practices and you put yourself at risk of exposure the risk is not only to you. It is to your parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents.

Your immune system may be able to fight off the coronavirus, but experience shows that older people are having the worst recovery results. I implore you to please “act right”; and if you cannot, regulations will be enforced to ensure proper behaviour that doesn’t cause the type of spread we have successfully avoided. That is the reason for the changes announced today. In the restrictions of raft ups to no more than three boats.

We have all seen the images from this past weekend, of the raft up that took place and it seems as though persons are being less and less careful and more and more cavalier. I urge boat owners who may host these raft ups in violation of the law to not test the new Minister of National Security. Our job is not to punish anyone. Our job is to do what is necessary to make the changes in law to make sure we keep the country safe. No one wants to roll back what we’ve done because we all recognize the economic pain that causes.

I will pause here to acknowledge the work of a young Bermudian who wrote to me earlier this week. Ms. Jade Robinson is a pre-medical student completing her Masters of Public Health at King’s College in London, and a former volunteer for the COVID-19 Southside Swabbing Site. She is also a volunteer in a Public Health Core group for a UK-based charity, Cov360. She collaborated with Cov360 to produce a documentary and recorded the crucial work that staff in the Southside Swabbing Site have done to keep our community safe. The video was played earlier on CITV and will be repeated in the coming days. The video can also be seen on Government’s social media pages.

Before I close, I want to spend a few minutes acknowledging the work on the office of the Chief Medical Officer, specifically the work of Dr. Cheryl Peek-Ball as she retires from her office on Monday, 31 August.

Dr. Peek-Ball joined the Ministry of Health in 1990 as a Medical Officer with Maternal Health and Family Planning. She became the Senior Medical Officer in 2009 and the Acting CMO and then the substantive CMO from 2012.

I’m sure when Dr. Peek-Ball announced her retirement last year she didn’t expect to face a truly global pandemic, especially since the last was over a hundred years ago.

For those of you who have met Dr. Peek-Ball, she is indeed one of those people you will never forget. She has a calm and reassuring manner with the wisdom and analysis of a scientist. She has provided outstanding guidance and support to the Minister of Health and the Cabinet, and that means she has ably served the country. Her expertise allowed the Cabinet to make informed decisions about movement, how we make sure we restrict the spread of the virus also in regards to our healthcare capacity. I wish to thank her on behalf of a grateful nation. She has served Bermuda with outstanding professionalism and she deserves the break that she will get from next week Monday. Dr. Peek-Ball, thank you.

Dr. Peek-Ball will give her last interview as Bermuda’s Chief Medical Officer on Monday 31 August at 11:30am at which time viewers will meet the incoming CMO Dr. Ayoola Oyinloye. Tune in to Government’s Facebook page and submit your questions. The conversation can also be seen on CITV.

Last week, I stated today would be our last weekly COVID-19 press conference with a number of ministers as the government must move to smaller confines and we want to make sure that we maintain our physical distancing. However the Government has decided it is necessary to continue with regular press conferences to make sure that we provide information the citizens, students, parents, workers and our treasured seniors. School will start in the coming weeks, so we will make some adjustments to the press conference schedule but please note that we will continue to make sure we keep you updated. With that I am happy to take any questions from members of the media at this time.