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Video: Govt Press Conference On Covid-19

[Updated] The Government is holding a press conference this evening [June 16] to update the public on Covid-19.

Update: The Government said, “We received 528 COVID19 results today. All 528 results were negative. Total confirmed cases in Bermuda remains at 144. 128 persons have recovered; 0 persons are hospitalised; 7 are recovering at home. Bermuda’s death toll remains at 9.”

Update 7.44pm: Minister Kim Wilson’s full statement follows below:

Good Afternoon,

Between Sunday and today there were 528 test results received by the Ministry of Health; and none were positive for COVID-19.

Bermuda continues to have 144 total confirmed positive cases. Their status is as follows:

  • there are 7 active cases, of which
  • all are under active public health monitoring, and
  • none are hospitalized or in critical care.
  • A total of 128 have now recovered, and
  • the total deceased remains 9.

The average age of all of our confirmed positive cases is 61 and the age range of all of our positive cases is from 18 to 101 years.

Overall, 56% of all cases are Black, 41% are white and 3% are other or unknown.

The source of all local cases is as follows:

  • 41 are Imported
  • 85 are Local transmission, with known contact
  • 12 are Local transmission with an unknown contact, and
  • 6 are under investigation

I can also provide a brief line of update regarding the COVID-19 “saliva tests”: These have now been shipped and should be on-island shortly.

At Thursday’s press conference, I announced that the Ministry of Health has rolled out a pop-up testing programme to make testing more accessible to the public, through pop-up testing sites at various MarketPlace and City Centre locations; with more to be announced over the coming weeks.

We understand the value of taking services to the people, as we have used this approach very successfully with our annual Flu Express and Taking it to the Streets initiatives, which get public health to where the people are.

I can tell you that since launching the pop-up testing, over 500 people have taken advantage of the initiative. I am extremely impressed by the public’s interest in getting tested and hope that enthusiasm continues. Remember – the more we test, the better we will contain and control COVID-19.

In order to ensure that wait times at pop-up testing venues are as minimal as possible, I would encourage residents wishing to get tested, to please book an appointment. It can literally take five minutes for two people to get tested if you pre-book.

You can book online via the government website coronavirus.gov.bm or call the COVID-19 hotline 444-2498 between 9am and 9pm and one of our helpful telephone operators will be happy to make a reservation for you. A full schedule of testing days and times has been posted to the Government website.

Other convenient pop-up locations around the island this week are:

  • Wednesday- Anglican Cathedral – 10am to 2 pm
  • Thursday – Anglican Cathedral – 10am to 2 pm & Heron Bay MarketPlace 2pm – 7pm
  • Friday – Anglican Cathedral – 9am to 1pm , 3pm – 7pm & Shelly Bay MarketPlace 3pm – 7pm
  • Saturday- Somerset MarketPlace 3pm to 7pm
  • Sunday – Shelly Bay MarketPlace- 12pm – 5pm

For more information about pop-up testing, you can call 444-2498.

Also, if you are a large company with over 30 employees, the Ministry of Health can arrange for pop-up testing to come to your workplace. For more information on this call 444-2498.

As we move through Phase 3, I feel I must remind people that this is not the green light to abandon those habits which have stood us in such good stead in the fight against COVID-19 so far – namely, mask-wearing and physical distancing. Over the past few days we have noticed a slip in those good behaviours. This is irresponsible, dangerous and could have the potential to set us back we move towards the safe reopening of Bermuda. We all want to get to Phase 4… and beyond. But this will NOT happen if we see a rise in cases of COVID-19… something which WILL happen if we do not wear our masks and practice physical distancing.

Also, we are encouraging people to log onto HealthIQ.bm to tell us how you’re feeling and what you’re seeing in the community in terms of protective measures being taken. Your information is confidential and will help us greatly as we transition through the phases. Over 7,000 people have registered so far. We need 10,000 to get this reopening indicator to a ‘green light’ on the scoreboard.

Finally, today I want to draw your attention to some of our Phase 3 Guidance which has been recently created and posted to the Government website: coronavirus.gov.bm.

In particular, I want to go over some of the points from the Re-Opening Directions for Movie Theatres, Theatres, Museums, Libraries and Similar Places of Public Entertainment.

These types of establishments should rigorously follow the practices specified in those protocols which include:

  • Utilizing remote ticketing options;
  • Adjusting screening times/opening hours to allow time for enhanced cleaning and disinfection;
  • Warning clients upon booking not to come to the facility if they have any COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Ensuring proper physical distancing to allow 6 feet between patrons in the venue;
  • Ensuring that all employees and customers wear cloth face coverings [exceptions for children under 2];
  • Regularly and frequently cleaning and disinfecting any regularly touched surfaces. This includes disinfecting seats and frequently touched areas and surfaces between screenings, events or groups;
  • Making hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available to employees and customers upon entry and at suitable locations;
  • Placing readily visible signs at the venue to remind everyone of best hygiene practices;
  • Restricting access to restrooms to allow appropriate physical distancing;
  • Keeping at least two empty seats [or six feet separation] between parties in any row. Additionally, there should be alternate rows between customers, so that every other row is left empty. However, two or more members of the same household can sit next to one another, with two seats empty [or six feet separation] on either side. Also, two individuals who are not members of the same household but who are attending together can sit next to one another, with two seats [or six feet separation] empty on either side.

There are also various rules for these types of venues who also provide food service for patrons. These can be also found within this guidance; as can the specific health protocols which should be taken by employees of these establishments.

Lastly, I would like to remind the public that tomorrow, Wednesday 17th June there will be a Facebook Live session with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Cheryl Peek-Ball, and BHB’s Chief of Medicine, Dr Michael Ashton at 2pm. I invite and encourage everyone to log on to learn more and submit any questions you may have in advance or during the live broadcast via the Government facebook page.

Thank You, Bermuda, and, please, wear your mask and keep six feet apart if you are not wearing one.

Update 8.04pm: Minister Jason Hayward’s full statement follows below:

Good Evening,

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses across the island were forced to close their doors, since which many businesses have reopened.
As a result of these closures, through the period of Shelter-In-Place, over 9,800 individuals were out of work and many millions of dollars have been paid out in benefits from the unemployment fund.

Although all sectors were hit hard with large numbers of persons unemployed, some sectors were hit particularly hard. The top five largest job losses during Shelter-In-Place are as follows:

  • 1.Restaurants with 1815;
  • 2.Hotels with 1345;
  • 3.Construction with 1256;
  • 4.Retail with 991; and
  • 5.Small business with 921.

As the economy has slowly reopened, many persons have been reemployed. As of the most recent update, a total of 3,577 individuals have returned to work.

The numbers of reemployed is great news for Bermuda. However, with this good news, the Government has also received reports of inequitable employment practices happening in our country. From 30 March to 5 June 2020, I can report that the Labour Relations Section has received 409 labour related queries.
In some instances, there are reports that employers may be discriminating against Bermudians.

I can confirm that of the total of these queries received, 14 are related to Work Permit holders being retained or recalled to work over Bermudian workers.

I will break these 14 queries down into further details:

  • Ten were public observations/general queries;
  • One was referred to the Department of Immigration;
  • One was investigated with no further action taken;
  • Two others were received, one of which is currently under investigation.

While we strongly believe the majority of businesses are treating Bermudians fairly, there may be a few employers that will discriminate against Bermudians. If this practice is occurring, I ask those responsible stop immediately.

As we seek to further open up our economy for business, we urge employers to ensure that Bermudians are given equitable treatment.

It must be noted that employment practices in response to the pandemic have not been uniform across all sectors. For example, it is understood that employees in the International Business sector have largely remained employed and continued to work remotely. Other businesses have experienced similar success and we thank them for their efforts to keep their staff employed.

The Premier recently announced that Cabinet agreed to extend the Unemployment Benefit Program for another month to support our people and provide them with an added layer of security, as businesses reopen and our economy begins to move again.

To assist employees which were laid off, terminated, or made redundant as a result of COVID-19, the unemployment benefit was introduced. The unemployment benefit came into effect on the 24th of March 2020 and the application period will end on the 30th of June 2020.

The unemployment benefit provides a weekly benefit of up to $500 to eligible persons, including work permit holders, for up to 12 weeks.

The Government will extend these benefits, but not the application deadline, to allow persons to receive further support while the country moves towards the new normal with the gradual re-opening of the economy during phase 4.

Additionally, following engagement with industry associations, the Government will also table legislation this week to amend the Employment Act 2000. The legislation will amend the portion of the Act with respect to lay off, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the state of emergency.

The change will exclude the period from 1 April to 30 June 2020 from the calculation of the period of four months, after which a lay off is deemed to be a termination for redundancy.

The existing provisions of the Employment Act would then apply for severance pay for those employees not recalled at the end of the four-month period starting from 30th of June 2020.

The purpose of this amendment is to protect both employees and employers in these unprecedented times. In the face of the global pandemic, employees should not lose their benefit entitlement of redundancy pay under the Act. This must be protected.

On the other hand, employers with little or no cash, and significantly lower revenues due to the pandemic, should not be forced into bankruptcy by paying these benefits. A compromise must be reached.

This moves represents a balanced approach to provide both groups an opportunity to adapt to the new normal as we go through phase 3 and work toward entering phase 4.

It should be noted that the concerns of the Bermuda Hotel Association have not been ignored and the Government will be working with industry partners to find a solution to the specific problems that they are experiencing.

The Government will continue to work together with all stakeholders to allow Bermuda to get through these difficult times together.

Thank You.

Update: Minister Wayne Caines statement is below:

This weekend was tragically marred by violence and death.

On Friday, there were firearm incidents in the East End which left one man shot and who is recovering in the KEMH.

Also on Friday, there was a major stabbing in a parking lot at Marketplace in Southampton.

On Saturday we saw large pockets of young people at John Smith’s Bay engaging in serious violent behavior.

And on Sunday a young man’s life was taken in the most violent circumstance.

These are all very troubling developments and the people of Bermuda should be rightly outraged about such incidents that shake the foundation of our community.

I again take this opportunity to extend my condolences to the young man’s family and continue to urge the public to assist where they can in providing information to the Police about any of this weekend’s incidents.

My weekend update is as follows:

As expected, beach, park and water usage all increased considerably over the weekend.

However as we saw, tensions from anti-social behavior and gang activity regrettably disturbed what should have been a peaceful holiday weekend.

Over the three-day period, the Covid19 Response Force (CRF) mobilized troops to conduct island-wide presence patrols, vehicle checkpoints and static beach observation.

As a follow on from this weekend’s disturbances, here are some critical points to know as it relates to Royal Bermuda Regiment’s support.

  • To be clear, the Regiment’s powers are limited by the COVID-19 Emergency Regulations. They do not have police powers.
  • Their role is to support the Bermuda Police Service in an advisory and community engagement role and provide assistance in enforcing social distancing, curfews etc.
  • When situations become tenuous with the public, as they did at John Smith’s Bay, the Bermuda Police Service is notified to attend.
  • Immediately after the John Smith’s Bay incident the Regiment provided its support by establishing vehicle checkpoints in the surrounding area including Watch Hill Park, Blue Hole Hill and Pink Beach to gather information on suspects.
  • On Sunday, the RBR also provided immediate assistance following the fatal stabbing in the vicinity of the Warwick Rubis Gas Station.
  • RBR personnel provided assistance in the form of first aid, security of the scene and pursuit of a suspect vehicle.
  • In support of the BPS, the RBR also maintained security surrounding the crime scene, allowing investigators to work throughout the evening.

Turning to the Coast Guard – the weekend saw hundreds of pleasure crafts on the water. As it stands, a total of 2,571 vessels were either engaged with or observed on the water this weekend.

As has been the challenge, it was next to impossible to enforce social distancing in the Paradise Lakes area at the height of each day due to the numbers of boats and people involved.

As a result, there were four summons issued for breaching the COVID 19 Regulations.

And there were 23 citations issued for unlicensed vessels, speeding in a 5 knot no wake zone and not displaying navigation lights.

Switching to Police – the weekend update is as follows:

Friday 12th June 2020:

There were disturbances involving the stabbing of a male outside Mr. Chicken (Heron Bay Plaza) in Warwick. Three individuals were involved in the fracas and suspects have been arrested.

There was a firearms incident with a male being shot in the Governor’s Alley, St. George’s. The victim turned up at KEMH, via private motorcar. Additional suspects are being sought.

Report of Gunshots in Middle Town, Pembroke.

Saturday 13th June 2020:

Regarding the disturbance at John Smith’s Bay – this incident involved between 75-100 persons. The weapons used involved bladed articles, helmets and bottles. Two arrests have been made so far. Further suspects have been identified and will be subject of arrest.

Sunday 14th June 2020:

The stabbing murder of a young male at the Rubis Service Station, South Road, Warwick.

Turning to the Gang Violence Reduction Team – the Gang Violence Reduction Team led by Pastor Leroy Bean continue to deploy strategies to ensure that we’re meeting the needs in terms of community outreach, education, training and direct intervention.

  • On June 11th the Gang Violence Reduction Team activated the Coordinated Crisis Response Team as normal holiday weekend protocol.
  • The Coordinated Crisis Response Unit was deployed several times over the weekend to identified hotspots to support the community through emotional hardship. The public may recall that the unit is set up to assist family members, relatives or witnesses of violent incidents through times of crisis. The CCR unit made several support visits to the hospital several times this weekend, and also made home visits to support the families affected by the violence.
  • The Coordinated Crisis Response team has systems, structures and trained staff in place to provide immediate emotional support to the affected families, and to provide immediate triage in order to connect families with long-term support through counselling services and support groups.
  • Between Thursday June 11 – 15th the GVRT increased its street outreach work and visited targeted neighborhoods. The team have been working around the clock to directly mediate tensions and conflicts between groups and individuals. The team have spoken with various individuals throughout this holiday weekend and have given support where it is needed.
  • It is not appropriate for the Government to provide detail on the particulars of this outreach work in order to protect the confidentiality and security of those individuals willing to participate. The public can be assured however, that the outreach work of the GVRT connects many at-risk individuals to necessary neighborhood resources and long term case management.
  • The GVRT will continue to execute our multi- prong plan with all our community partners. On Friday June 19th I will give a full update in Ministerial Statement of the work the Gang Violence Reduction Team.
  • I must emphasize one point, bringing harm to others and instilling fear in the public will not be accepted under any circumstance. We will continue to push back against those who insist on bringing violence and disorder to our home.

Finally, an update on the Department of Corrections:

  • On June 11th the Department of Corrections commenced Phase 3 of its recovery plan.
  • On-site inmate visits continue to be suspended; however virtual visits and phone calls to family/friends continue.
  • 80% of the non-security staff have returned to work at the facilities with staggered scheduling
  • Contractors are allowed into the facilities; however they must follow the new visiting protocol which includes temperature testing.
  • COVID-19 testing took place for inmates during the last two weeks of May. All results were negative.
  • The DOC staff are conducting COVID-19 testing at Southside and designated Health Services staff have been trained to conduct in-house testing.
  • Staffing levels have not been significantly impacted and staff continue to carry out their duties professionally despite the challenges that we face
  • The department continue to stock PPE supplies and other COVID-19 related supplies and source replacements from various vendors. The supplies are issued as required per the Dept. of Health guidelines.
  • I can confirm that 91 % of our inmates have been tested for COVID-19. I can also thankfully confirm that have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst staff or inmates.

Thank You.

Update: Premier David Burt’s full statement follows below:

Good Evening Bermuda.

I’m joined at today’s press conference by the Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, who will give an update on the continued work of the Ministry of Health in battling COVID-19. We also have the Minister of National Security, Wayne Caines, who will discuss the murder and other acts of violence which took place this weekend.

Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson will discuss the island’s financial response to COVID-19 and plan for our economy. I also welcome the newly appointed Minister of Labour, Jason Hayward, who will update us on the unemployment insurance benefits, and the work of his newly created Ministry of Labour, ensuring that we protect the rights of Bermudians in the workplace.

This holiday weekend, where we remember the contributions of our national heroes, was a distressing time for many in Bermuda. The actions of few have changed the lives of family and friends who lost a loved one, through the senseless death of a 22 year old Bermudian. On behalf of the government and of the people of Bermuda, I extend our condolences to his family and to his friends.

The Minister of Health will now provide an update on the testing which took place over the weekend against the backdrop of more confirmed cases which reported on Saturday. Minister.
Minister Of Health Reads Her Remarks.

Thank you Minister of Health.

The news of no new cases, following days of testing is certainly welcome news. However, it is important and a reminder that we must continue to keep our guard up by wearing our masks, and maintaining our physical distance when out in public and socializing. Everything we have done thus far, must continue. Whether that is washing your hands, good cough hygiene, or the utilization of hand sanitizer. These are all public health measures that will help us continue to keep this virus at bay.

The pop-up testing locations have proven to be extremely popular and I encourage everyone to visit coronavirus.gov.bm to get the details and locations and times, and to book an appointment to get tested today. Even though she’s going to upset with me for saying it, even my mom, went to get tested today, and she commented and said ‘it wasn’t as bad as I thought’, because it is not as bad as you may think.

During phase 3B, which will commence, on Thursday, the full range of personal care services will become available. This includes the grooming of beards, waxing services and massages. As stated last week, public health guidelines will provide for the frequency of tests for personal care service providers, engaged in high risk activities which to date have not been allowed.

For providers of those services, who got tested this weekend, including my barber, I, and other clients look forward to seeing you later this week. Those who have not yet been tested, please visit coronavirus.gov.bm to book an appointment so you can keep yourselves, your clients and Bermuda safe. With that Minister Caines will now give his update this evening to the country. Minister.

Minister Of National Security Reads His Remarks

Thank you Minister Caines. We are joined by the Police Commissioner this evening, who is also on hand to answer any questions, which we may have afterwards.

The events this weekend serve to remind us that the work is never ending if we are to address the root causes of the violence and anti-social behaviour in our community. These are systemic issues that require a targeted and deliberate approach.

The government’s increased investments in education, training, mental health, and programmes like Redemption Farms, as well as new programmes for those people who have aged out of the Department of Child and Family Services will be continued. Because it is through these programmes, and our focus on dismantling systemic racism that we will effect the change we need to see in our young people.

As we move through each phase, our goal was to make sure that we open our economy safely, and at the same time put Bermudians back to work. The Minister of Finance, Curtis Dickinson, will give details around the work necessary to support those in Bermuda financially, and also his efforts in reinvigorating the Bermuda economy. Minister Dickinson.

Minister Of Finance Reads His Remarks

Thank you Minister of Finance. As you have shared, there’s much work going on to provide relief to Bermudians and to Bermuda’s businesses that are battling the economic impacts of this pandemic.

As I’ve said over the past few weeks, employers who are reopening their businesses must put Bermudians first. Likewise Bermudians who are asked to return to work should do so, and should not be collecting unemployment benefits. It is not appropriate for employers to deny work to Bermudians, and if we learn of instances where Bermudians have refused to return to work in order to continue to receive the unemployment benefit, this behaviour will be addressed appropriately.

I now welcome the Minister of Labour to the podium to provide his first update to the country since his appointment. Minister Hayward.

Minister Of Labour Reads His Remarks

Thank you, Minister for that update. It is clear that the work of this government continues through the actions of the Minister of Labour.

As schools around the island prepare to close, summer day camps will be opening. The Minister of Community Affairs and Sports, the Hon. Lovitta Foggo, last week, announced the opening of government camp registration. However, within a few hours, the spaces were all taken and a waiting list established. This has caused anxiety amongst parents who are looking for safe summer activities for their children.

The Ministry is looking closely at how we can accommodate more students, working with the Ministry of Health. Camps have instituted protocols that are in keeping with the Ministry of Health’s guidance, as well as best practices from leading global health organizations.

There are fewer spaces than normal this year to ensure physical distance requirements are adhered to. However, as has been stated, we are looking to make sure that we can expand these services, as we know, this is something that is desired by a great many parents. Certainly in a time of economic distress, more affordable programmes are needed to make sure that our students can be engaged in enriching activities and also to provide for those college students who may be home and may not have the opportunity to work, due to some cancelled internship opportunities. We believe this is a win-win, and we’re exploring how we can expand those particular services.

As I close, I must thank all those who continue to work on the frontlines of our protection against this pandemic. For those who have worked tirelessly, whether you are public health professionals, a member of one of Bermuda’s testing labs, a medical professional, a technical support member or a member of the public service to ensure that services are made available to the general public. Your selfless contribution is appreciated by a grateful country.

We have come a long way, and we still have a very long way to go. We are a community that must successfully move forward together. And as long as we remain united, I’m confident that we will make it through this pandemic. I now welcome any questions that members the media may have.

Update: Minister Curtis Dickinson’s full statement follows below

Good Evening,

Bermuda has made considerable progress over the past few months fighting COVID-19. We have seen fewer positive cases, our economy is beginning to open up, people are going back to work, and our lives are slowly transitioning to ‘a new normal’. Our diligence is paying off, and while this is encouraging, we must remember that the pandemic has not gone away and people are still adversely impacted by it and require our support.

On May 28th, I provided an update to the general public on the continuing actions being taken as part of the Ministry of Finance COVID-19 – Fiscal Plan. That update covered three specific areas: the unemployment benefits; the Economic Advisory Committee; and the National Pension Scheme.

Today, I am pleased to provide a further update on the Ministry of Finance COVID-19 – Fiscal Plan as Bermuda continues to ease restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Ministry of Finance has continuously stepped up efforts to provide support to deal with health emergency needs and assist individuals and businesses. As additional sectors of the economy are now opening, and with Phase 4 pending, we continue to assess and implement additional measures as part of our plan to bring further strength and stability to our economy in a fair and equitable manner that appropriately takes into account the needs of the people of Bermuda.

The Ministry of Finance COVID-19 – Fiscal Plan has provided a timely and targeted fiscal stimulus to various components of our economy, as needed. Already, significant public resources have been directed to strengthen the healthcare sector, and to support affected workers and economic sectors.

Fiscal Measures

Overall fiscal measures

We have quickly taken appropriate steps to ensure the availability of emergency financing to supplement reduced revenues and COVID-19 related expenditures. Actions taken in this regard include: Executing agreements for $170 million of credit facilities with local financial institutions; Further, preparations have already commenced to issue long-term government debt in the global capital markets, which will allow for the refinancing of these and other facilities, as well as effective management of the economic fallout from this crisis. Subject to market conditions, this transaction may also involve the refinancing of current government bonds at a more favorable interest rate.

Income support to individuals and Households:

Recognising that helping individuals in our community during this challenging time was a key priority, the Government quickly introduced an unemployment benefit, to assist people who lost their jobs due to restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Finance has played a key role in this scheme and we have paid benefits to over 9,700 persons for a total cost to date of approximately $38 million.

With the mandatory shelter in place restrictions being lifted, I can advise you that more than 3,500 persons have already gone back to work and are now off the programme.

However to further assist those still not yet employed, the Government has decided to extend the unemployment benefit program for another 4 weeks with the maximum benefit now being 16 weeks. The cost to extend this benefit is estimated between $6-$10 million.

The National Pension Scheme [Occupational Pensions] Act 1998 was amended to permit a person under the age of 65, and has not retired, who participates in a private, defined contribution pension plan or local retirement product, to voluntarily withdraw up to $12,000, from the period that the Act was brought into force on June 1st until 30th June, 2021. To date the following applications have been made and approved:

Total Applications Received: 4,807 Total Number Approved: 972
Total Value of Applications Approved: $10,955,501

The National Pension Scheme [Occupational Pensions] Act 1998 was also amended to permit a person who has reached the normal age of 65 and has retired to withdraw up to 25% of their pension account balances. To date the following applications have been made and approved:

Total Applications Received: 40 Total Number Approved: 38
Total Value of Applications Approved: $857,292

New Fiscal Measures to further assist individuals

Following numerous requests from the public received by the Ministry of Finance and the Pension Commission, I am pleased to advise that additional amendments will be made to the National Pension Scheme [Occupational Pensions] Act 1998 and respective regulations to increase the scope of coverage and provide additional access to plan members as follows:

  • by removing the requirement for a member not to be retired for those seeking a $12,000 refund;
  • by removing the requirement for persons to be retired for those seeking a 25% refund; and
  • by removing the requirement for persons to be retired for those seeking a small pension refund.

The Government recognizes persons with financial need should not be restricted based upon whether they have retired or not. The main criteria in the types of refunds I have just mentioned should be whether they have met the age requirement or not. It is intended that these legislative amendments will be made in the current legislative session.

The National Pension Scheme [Occupational Pensions] Act 1998, will be further amended to allow for a suspension of employee and employer contributions for a twelve month period commencing 1st July, 2020 and ending on 30th June, 2021. The Bill will be debated on Friday June 19th in the House of Assembly. Participating employees will benefit from a 5% increase in their take-home pay.

Amendments to the Contributory Pensions Act 1970 will also be made to allow for employees, employers, and self-employed persons to suspend payment of their social insurance contributions for the whole of the suspension period [July 1st 2020 – June 30th 2021]. This proposal will provide further relief to employees [$35.92 per week / $143.68/month]. The Bill will be also be debated on Friday June 19th in the House of Assembly.

Measures to assist businesses:

Deferral or temporary reduction of taxes/fees/penalties:

The Government has implemented further emergency measures to assist businesses that have a pressing need for financial relief as a result of this pandemic.

The Payroll Tax filing deadline was extended from April 15th, 2020 until May 15th, 2020. Approximately 1,250 businesses took advantage of this extension.
Penalties and fees that would normally apply for that period were waived.

For local companies and permit companies that were not able to facilitate their legislative filings and payments electronically, the deadline for filings and fees in relation to corporate reporting and taxes was extended to 30 June 2020. 1,040 companies took advantage of this concession; and $850,000 in fees were deferred.

Current penalties and fees that would normally apply for that period are also being waived.

On May 21st 2020 Government announced further short-term relief from payroll tax to assist the restaurant and bar sector. During this quarter ending 30th June 2020, payroll tax has been set at a zero rate for the restaurant and bar sectors and these businesses have ceased deducting payroll tax from employees during this period.

The fiscal implications of these actions will be a reduction of Government revenue [estimated at $750,000 to $1 million]. However, we anticipate that this relief will ease some of the pressure on restaurants and bars, and especially lessen the pain being experienced by many Bermudians who work in this sector.

Customs Duty Relief:

To assist with preparations for the threat of COVID-19, the Customs Tariff was amended during the budget session to provide duty relief for personal protective equipment and supplies.

Since 11 March 2020, when this amendment was brought into force, $1.5 million in Customs Duty relief has been forgiven.

On May 20th the Government announced that the Customs Department will, with immediate effect, allow retailers and other commercial importers to apply for duty deferment for up to six months on imported business goods subject to a minimal surcharge.

Import duty is normally payable at the time each import declaration is made to Customs; We recognised that upfront duty payment can place a strain on a business’ cash flow and that buyer demand is likely to be significantly impacted by the fallout from COVID–19. Duty deferment will allow customs traders, in particular retailers and Customs Clearing Agents, to increase the efficiency of payment handling and the management of their cash flow.

Long term duty payment deferral [more than six months] is also now available in certain circumstances.

Further relief for employers:

Employers who take up the benefit allowed by the amendments to the National Pension Scheme [Occupational Pensions] Act 1998, which were previously highlighted in relation to its impact on employees, will have a reduction in operating expenses [5% of payroll].

Total NPS Contributions are approximately $250 million per year.

Participating employers will also benefit from a reduction in operating expenses of $35.92 per employee per week. [$143.68/month], in relation to the amendment to the Contributory Pensions Act that was also previously highlighted for its impact on employees.

Total CPF Contributions are approximately $113 million per year.

It should be noted that if the suspension of contributions is taken up across the public and private sector, it will provide both relief and stimulus to families and businesses. The stimulus to the economy will be generated if some of the saving is converted to consumer spending in the local economy and business investment in infrastructure and improvements.

Public Sector loans/guarantees or Government loans/guarantees – Assistance to Small and Medium Enterprises

With respect to direct financial support to small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], the Bermuda Government, together with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation [BEDC] developed the Business Sustainability & Continuity Funding Programme in response to the impact of COVID-19 on Bermuda’s SMEs. The programme, which will be in place until the end of 2020 [or until the funds are fully deployed], totals $24 million funded by a $12 million grant from the Bermuda Government and $12 million by BEDC from its allocated funding. The relief funding programme consists of a range of financing products for businesses to take advantage of such as:

  • BEDC direct micro loans as well as relief micro grants;
  • BEDC guarantees for overdrafts from Banks;
  • BEDC guarantees for loans from external entities [such as Banks; Credit Unions; Private Companies; and Individuals].

At this time Government has provided the BEDC with $4 million of the $12 million grant that was mentioned previously. The BEDC have directly assisted 54 businesses with funding over the last 8 weeks and are actively processing more applications.

As has been stated many times during this crisis, the unprecedented nature of this pandemic has resulted in significant national economic challenge for countries globally, including Bermuda. Thus, as part of the process for development and implementation of our plan for economic strengthening and stability, we are utilising the strong public/private partnerships which exists in Bermuda, and the well-established networks we have with overseas persons and entities.

I have received valuable input from individuals, agencies such as the Bermuda Development Agency and the Bermuda Monetary Authority, as well as the wider business community within our island. In addition, I have also been able to draw on the expertise and long-standing knowledge of members of the Fiscal Responsibility Panel and the Financial Policy Council. These entities have provided input on matters relating to the impact that COVID-19 has had on fiscal policy and financial stability, and have also provided strategic initiatives for future growth and development in Bermuda.

Getting ongoing input from all of these sources, which include persons with extensive experience and expertise in Bermuda and/or overseas, has been and continues to be very beneficial to me, and to Bermuda. I would like to express my sincere thanks to those persons who have provided support in that regard.

In previous press conferences reporting on COVID–19 matters, I have highlighted the Economic Advisory Committee, which was specifically formed to provide advice on actions that will assist Bermuda businesses negatively impacted by this global crisis, and also provide input on initiatives to develop more opportunities for employment and create increased economic activity and government revenue.

At its most recent meeting held last week, the EAC [as it is referred to] focused on “quick wins” which could stabilize and or grow the international business sector, a significant contributor to public and private sector income in Bermuda. Also, the EAC has focused on additional proposals which could assist the hospitality and retail sector, which employs a significant number of employees and whose short term prospects are still quite dire.

As stated previously, we have taken a significant number of emergency and short term actions to provide relief to individuals, households and businesses which have been hard-hit by the economic fallout from COVID-19. However, we recognize that our strategies have to include all sectors that contribute to Bermuda’s economy and that more is still required in sectors where some support has already been provided.

The input provided at that meeting, among other things, provided additional perspectives on matters that were already being considered or needing consideration; and allowed me to have further constructive dialogue with my team and with other Cabinet Ministers for timely progression of key initiatives.

In our next meeting, it is intended that the focus will be on additional actions to support small and medium size enterprises. It is also proposed that there will be discussion on the work that is being done, to refine our economic modeling.

During this period the Ministry has had interaction with the rating agencies and we are pleased that both Moody’s Investors Service [Moody’s] in May and S&P back in April, have affirmed Bermuda’s ratings. These ratings actions serve as an independent endorsement of the actions we are taking to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, however we realize there is far more work to do in addressing the unprecedented challenges posed COVID-19.

The Ministry of Finance stands ready to take further measures as needed, and as developments unfold.

In closing I will once again thank our essential workers, everyone who is on the front line to ensure our health and well-being, and all those persons who are involved in the work to assist persons and businesses dealing with the challenges caused by this pandemic.

Thank You.