COVID-19 Update - Acting Premier Remarks 30 December 2020

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

Good afternoon everyone and good afternoon to members of the media who are here for today’s press conference.

I am Walter Roban the Acting Premier, sitting in for the Premier David Burt who is currently taking a well-deserved break.

I am joined today by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Kim Wilson and the Minister of National Security, the Hon. Renee Ming.

Before I turn over the presentation to Minister Wilson, I would like to start this press conference by offering the sincere condolences on behalf of the Government and people of Bermuda to the family who unfortunately lost an important member of their family this past week as a result of the coronavirus. I know we all were saddened to hear of this when it happened. No deaths from the virus since May. We all were moved by the announcement that someone had passed. 

The tenth person to die as a result of the coronavirus here in Bermuda. 

The reality is that the pandemic is still with us and there was a family, as a result, who was left with an empty chair over the holiday. We all understand, as a result of the past three to four weeks, that this virus is still with us. We must remain vigilant if we are to fight and defeat it.

I will now turn over the presentation to Minister Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health. Minister.

Thank you Minister Wilson. I would like to personally thank Minister Wilson and the team under her leadership for all their outstanding work. It is clear over recent weeks they have been under considerable amount of pressure. You have all worked very long hours. Minister Wilson and her team deserve this country’s gratitude. They certainly get it from myself and they deserve it from every resident of this island.

I now ask Minister Ming to make her presentation.

Thank you Minister Ming.

I join Minister Ming in condemning the acts of violence that took place on our streets on Monday night. I encourage those who have information about this incident and any other gun related incidents to contact the Bermuda Police Service. If you know something, you should say something. 

I would also like to express my appreciation to Minister Ming and the team under her at the Ministry of National Security for all their work, especially the departments that Minister Ming referenced tonight. They have all, along with the Ministry of Health team, done service beyond their call. And certainly the team and all the departments and person in the Ministry of National Security have been working 24 hours to keep Bermuda safe. So I wish to thank them on behalf of all of us. 

This Christmas was different for most of us in Bermuda. There were smaller gatherings and for some families, there were no gatherings at all. Many stayed in their social bubbles and exercised extreme care while moving around over the Christmas holiday weekend. 

I also heard some heartwarming stories of families who found interesting and new ways to share the Christmas spirit using technology. There were Zoom and Skype calls. What’sApp is a tool that keeps many connected. To everyone who worked to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, thank you.

While our Christmas celebrations this year may not have been how we have traditionally spent the holidays, there is one tradition that we have been able to modify in order for it to take place. Yesterday I issued a joint press release with the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sport, Senator the Hon. Dr. Ernest Peets, giving the guidelines of how and where the Gombeys will perform on New Year’s Day.

I extend a sincere thank you to all Gombey troupes who worked with Government agencies to find a solution that will allow them to perform safely for the public. The guidelines include the troupes performing between noon and 10pm, in groups no larger than 10, and no spectators will be allowed within 12 feet of the performers.  

Spectators must wear masks and keep six feet apart from each other.  This will be enforced by marshals. The guidelines for observing the Gombeys can be found on coronavirus.gov.bm. 

I extend my appreciation to everyone who worked hard to make this possible. Gombeys are an important part of Bermuda’s heritage and I am extremely pleased that we can start the new year by observing and celebrating this aspect of our culture.

I will now talk about help that is available to those who are not working due to no fault of their own and what this government is doing to support them. In recent weeks, the Ministry of Finance has paid $234,000 to those who are not working and others who have been directed to quarantine.

The first group are verified employees of bars, night clubs and members clubs that have had to close due to current COVID-19 restrictions. The total benefit for these people is $500 a week for the period that these restrictions are in place. 

The spirit of this benefit is to compensate individuals who work at these establishments and are unable to earn their ordinary salary. 

The initial benefit of four weeks or $2,000 has been paid to individuals who completed and submitted the application, this included verification from their employer. The Government may extend the benefit further, if needed.

Those who have submitted their application and not received information or payment should contact their employer to make sure they complete the necessary documentation.

So far 74 people have been paid a total of $148,000.

The other group that has been approved for financial support are individuals who have been directed into mandatory quarantine or isolation by the Ministry of Health. These individuals who are unable to earn their ordinary wage can apply for this benefit. 

Starting on 18 December, these individuals have been paid biweekly. The benefit payout will be calculated at 60% of an individual’s remuneration with a maximum of $500 per week. 116 applications have been approved and a total of $86,600 has been paid.

I will now move to my ministry, Home Affairs where fraudulent activity has been brought to the attention of the Office of Consumer Affairs. There are some members of the public who are going into retail establishments and saying they are Consumer Affairs Enforcement Officers in order to deceive retailers.  The offenders operate in small groups to intimidate retail staff. This is an offence under the Consumer Protection Act 1999 and the offender is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment for six months.

Consumer Affairs Enforcement Officers are issued with badges and appropriate ID. If you are approached by someone claiming to be from Consumer Affairs, immediately ask for identification to verify the person is who they say they are.

If the person does not provide their badge and ID, immediately contact the Bermuda Police Service and provide a physical description. If you know the person, give their name to the Police as well.

If you find that you have been a victim of this fraudulent behavior please file a complaint immediately with the Office of Consumer Affairs. Call 297-7627 so they can investigate and prosecute the offenders.  

I will now discuss the WeHealth Bermuda app.

The app was launched on 11 December. In the almost three weeks since the launch, nearly 17,500 people have downloaded the app. If you don’t already have the app, you can download it from Apple’s App Store or Google Play. You can find it by searching for WeHealth Bermuda. 

It is free.

The WeHealth Bermuda app is designed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by notifying app users of potential exposure to COVID-19. 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 the WeHealth Bermuda app installed, enable Bluetooth and Exposure Notifications, are near each other, the app uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine how close together the devices were, and for how long.

Once a person receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and if they have the app on their phone, they will be issued with a randomized verification code by The Ministry of Health. He/she will enter the verification code into the WeHealth Bermuda app which will automatically and anonymously notify other app users that an infected person was within close proximity, even if they don't know that person. 

Because the WeHealth Bermuda app does not use or collect personal information, these notifications will be completely anonymous.

The app is free and once you download and install it on your smartphone, there’s nothing else you need to do. The app will run in the background and alert you to any exposure risks.

To help contain the spread of the coronavirus, wear a mask, wash and sanitize your hands, physically distance and download the WeHealth Bermuda app.

Encourage your friends, family and coworkers to download the app, too.

If you have questions about WeHealth Bermuda, visit www.gov.bm/wehealth or email covidapps@gov.bm.

In closing, I must remind everyone of the restrictions that remain in place over New Year’s Eve. The 11pm - 5am curfew remains in effect. There can’t be gatherings of more than ten people and you are strongly encouraged to remain in your social bubbles and no more than three households coming together.

As with Christmas and other events this year, we will find new ways to bring in 2021. Many of us will be in our homes, celebrating with family and friends near and far using the technology that is available to us.

2020 has been a year we will all remember. We have had to change our behaviour, modify our work and school schedules and routines, we have learned to wear masks, clean our hands regularly and physically distance. Throughout this, we have recognized what is truly important in life and hopefully grown closer to those we love.

There are many in our community who may need extra support emotionally. We have all experienced high levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. If you need someone to talk with, the Bermuda Psychology Association continue to support the Emotional Wellbeing Hotline. The phone number is 543-1111. I’ll repeat it … 543 1111. The line will be operated Monday to Saturday, from 5pm - 9pm.

Please call if you need someone to talk with. The hotline receives calls from people who are:

·         feeling anxious;

·         caregivers caring and coping with family members with Dementia;

·         seniors who may feel isolated;

·         having a hard time with the isolation;

·         caring for their loved ones and just want to chat.

There is no charge for those who call. Funding is made possible by the Bermuda Foundation with support from the Health Innovation Fund.

We have worked together as a community to understand this pandemic and the role we each play in help to stop the spread.

I must thank everyone, especially Bermuda’s essential and healthcare workers, public officers, helping agencies, and charities for their hard work this year. Additionally, there are many who do not fit into these categories who must also be recognized. 

Our strength was tested in ways unimaginable in 2020. We bent but did not break. We have proven that we are creative, resilient and determined. We identified new ways to provide products and services and we built on the successes that allowed us to survive alone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We helped and supported each other.

On the eve of a new year, I again thank everyone who has made a difference. 

Wishing everyone a peaceful, healthy and prosperous 2021. Happy New Year Bermuda

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