COVID-19 Update 8 September

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020
Premier and Minister of Finance, the Hon. David Burt

Good evening Bermuda. 

During today’s briefing, we will have an update on COVID-19 testing and other matters from the Minister of Health. I will provide an update on the Supplementary Unemployment Benefit, and the grant of 50% Payroll Tax Relief to Taxi Owners and Operators. 

But before those announcements, I wish to start with the good news that Minister for the Cabinet Office, Hon. Wayne L. Furbert announced. The Department of Statistics has compiled the 2020 edition of the Employment Briefs, and Minister Furbert released the data earlier today. 

The Employment Briefs provides a count of all filled jobs in Bermuda’s Labour Market by selected demographics, occupational groups, other variables, and it allows Readers to examine what is happening in Bermuda’s Workforce. 

Among many other comparisons, the Report examines year-on-year changes in employment. I am pleased to report that there were more people working in 2019, than in 2018; and there were more in 2018, than 2017. In other words, Bermuda is moving upward when it comes to job creation; every year there are more people working than the year before. 

Specifically, 523 more jobs were created last year than in 2018. In fact, that increase in the number of jobs in 2019 is the highest measured increase in jobs in since 2006 – 13 years ago. 

The Report shows that there were 33,855 jobs in 2018 and 34,378 in 2019. If we take the 2 year period between 2017 and 2019, there has been a total increase of 719 positions or a 2.1% rise. This 2 year figure is an increase over the figure that was reported as part of preliminary numbers in February, as the final figures released today showed that job growth in 2019 that was initially measured as 441 was actually 523. 

The increase in jobs in the economy, though before the pandemic, is evidence that as a country we have made collective progress in setting a firm foundation for our economy. 

It is one thing to have more jobs which obviously means more people worked in 2018 and 2019 than 2017, but are they working for the same, more, or less money? 

The report showed that not only are there more jobs, it also shows that average salaries and wages increased more than the rate of inflation. Staying ahead of the cost of living is a priority for every working person, and ensuring salaries exceed inflation indicates these are real jobs. 

With respect to employment income, the median gross annual income for Bermudians increased by $1,018 or 1.7% from $59,094 to $60,112; in short more Bermudians are working than in 2017, and we are being paid more. Interestingly, the average gross annual income for non-Bermudians declined by $970 or 1.3% during the same period. 

I recommend that anyone who needs a new job, is trying to switch careers, or is trying to determine which retraining is best for them, take a look at the Report, identify the sectors where employers are hiring, and make an appointment with the Department of Workforce Development armed with your desires, your commitment, and relevant, recent data. As the Minster of Labour outlined in his comprehensive re-employment strategy last week, the Government will help to get Bermudians back to work. 

I now invite the Minister of Health to provide her update. Minister. 

Thank you Minister. 

I would like to advise that earlier this afternoon the Cabinet reviewed and approved the Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Regulations 2020; the Regulations will be officially gazetted from that point. 

Members of the public who have already applied for the Benefit and been processed will receive their initial payment in the coming week. If you have not obtained the application forms or completed fully and submitted them, and you require assistance, please obtain the forms from the Department of Financial Assistance at Global House, 43 Church Street Hamilton. 

The supplemental benefit was put in place to ensure that persons who may not be eligible for financial assistance, are able to get financial support and health insurance from the Government of Bermuda. I understand that the application process is rigorous, but like every other COVID-19 development, we must ensure our People’s well-being, and balance that obligation with protection of the public purse. 

So I repeat, those persons who have been approved for the supplementary benefit will receive their first payments later this week. If you are in need of assistance, please contact the department of Financial Assistance. 

The Cabinet Committee on Reopening the Economy did not meet yesterday due to Labour Day. There have been requests from liquor licensed establishments to review the opening hours for these establishments as they must now close at midnight. Additionally the Minster of National Security will be streamlining the process of large group exemptions so that approvals can be returned to the event organisers more quickly. 

Any changes will be shared at next weeks’ press conference following the Cabinet Committee meeting on Monday and Tuesday’s meeting of Cabinet. 

Among many sectors that were severely impacted by COVID-19 was the Taxi industry. The shelter in place and lack of cruise and air visitors severely reduced earnings in this industry. Though many drivers are back earning funds again, the volumes are not where they were a year ago. 

Recognizing the challenges faced by taxi Operators, the Government will provide a 50% Payroll Tax break to assist the Sector. Accordingly, the annual charge of $1,000 that must be paid at Registration will be reduced to $500. 

This is good news for our Taxi Operators. Our island is seeing an increase in visitors and with more hotels and flights there will be more people coming to Bermuda to visit and work, creating more business for our taxi drivers and our Economy as a whole. 

In closing I want to allay any concerns that people may have about their safety when voting in the General Election next month. 

As I have said previously, our main priority is your health and safety; second to that is your economic and social well-being. Accordingly, just like every other development or ‘new normal Process’ that the Government has influenced or created, the solutions for voting have been thought out, based on science, Bermudianised for our needs, and are as user-friendly as possible. 

Accordingly, the Parliamentary Registrar will be supplied with whatever she deems necessary to protect public health as voters go to the polls. Ms. Woolridge is due to meet with the Ministry of Health, and together the Registrar and Government will introduce appropriate protocols at every Polling Station. 

We will never risk your lives, our public health official’s hard-earned work, or Bermuda’s envious reputation for managing Covid-19, by taking a shortcut or any other chances at Polling Stations. 

I will also remind everyone that faced with the greatest public health challenge our island has seen in modern times, Bermuda has fared well due to: collaboration, a sacrosanct commitment to Bermudians, and the leadership that the events required; and the results, some worth repeating, speak for themselves: 

  • Bermuda is ranked highest per capita in the Americas in testing per capita 
  • With today’s testing results, over 2000 tests, Bermuda will be again be ranked 6th in the World in terms of testing per capita, passing UAE 
  • The excellent work of the Department of Health testing teams and the Government Molecular Diagnostic Lab means we produce test results among the fastest countries in the world 
  • The protective measures at LF Wade International Airport have received global recognition and praise, confirming that Bermuda has the most extensive border protective measures in the world 
  • We created drive-through testing and various pop up testing locations throughout the country is conducted at no cost to residents being tested 

I make these points to show that our People-centered approach was the right way to go. In managing this crisis whether Bermudians were overseas trying to get home, or were on-island; whether a person was a homeowner or homeless; and whether quarantined by Government or not infected, Government always put People First and ensured that both Science and our way of life were our guiding principles. 

The approach produced results that are the envy of the world and is tangible proof that working together to build broad consensus with strong leadership is the best way to approach a health crisis. 

But, as always it is important to not let our guard down. We are seeing resurgences in cases in many countries – and we will continue to keep rules in place that are designed to allow our economy to operate so that Bermudians can provide for their families. 

Our Government continues to set an example to the rest of the World. We have successfully managed this pandemic, and we will continue to do so with everyone’s health and safety as our top priority. 

Thank you and good night Bermuda.