Minister: Public Communications During Covid-19

May 8, 2020

[Ministerial statement by Minister Jamahl Simmons]

Mr Speaker, the objective of communicating during a crisis is to get clear and accurate information to as many people, as quickly as possible. This ensures those receiving the information are well informed and know exactly what they are supposed to do, and when. Ideally the facts must reach the audience wherever they are comfortable getting their news.

Mr Speaker, increasingly people are turning to online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, to get their information. Groups share links and graphics that interest them and feel would be of interest to others. Short video clips and voice notes are other popular methods to quickly get specific details to large numbers of people.

However, Mr Speaker, there is a group of people who are not using modern technology and rely on the radio, television and printed newspaper to stay informed. Additionally, there are people who have special needs, such as individuals who are hearing impaired, who equally need access to vital life-saving information. The role of the Department of Communications is to make sure each group has the information they need when they need it.

Mr Speaker, very early in the Covid-19 crisis, Government’s Department of Communications [DC] moved to quickly educate the public about Covid-19. DC provided basic information about hand hygiene and cough etiquette, while giving details about what Covid-19 is and how to stop the spread. Working closely with the Ministry of Health, they developed guidance for industries so they in turn could take action to help prevent the spread of the disease in their establishments.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that things happen for a reason. In late February, the Department of Communications, working with Government House and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, provided training in Bermuda on Communicating During a Crisis. The department’s Communications Officers, together with the US Consulate General, US State Department and local agency partners, participated in a day and a half of theory and practical experience.

The training provided useful and practical tools for the attendees and gave reminders on what to do during a crisis. The lessons were indeed timely and provided those in attendance opportunities to make connections and develop crisis communications plans that were to prove invaluable within the coming weeks.

Mr. Speaker, my Statement today aims to shine a bright light on the tireless work of the Department of Communications. Since the start of the pandemic, DC has worked hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Health to help to flatten the curve of this epidemic so as not to overwhelm Bermuda’s hospital and medical services. The Ministry of Health is to be commended for their hard work and response to Covid-19 and likewise, I heartily commend the Department of Communications.

Since 1 March 2020:

  • the Government has held 47 press conferences;
  • the Premier has given two national addresses;
  • we have issued 173 Covid-19 press releases and 225 press releases all together;
  • we created 40 public service announcements and recorded and posted all press conferences;
  • we designed more than 600 social media and other graphics;
  • the TreeFrog app was downloaded by almost 2,000 people; 965 from the App Store; and 974 from Google Play; and
  • The team answered hundreds of media queries.

Ms. Speaker, the public may not be aware that each day members of the media send questions based on stories they are writing or producing for the next news cycle. For example, at one point the Ministry of Health received almost 40 questions in one day. The Communications Officer for Health is responsible for consulting with the technical officer at the Ministry of Health to get the answers. The responses may require research in order to provide accurate information to the news outlets and ultimately the people of Bermuda. This is an extremely time consuming exercise and all involved must be recognized for working in collaboration to support local media.

Mr Speaker, the activity undertaken by the Department of Communications, so far, has resulted in the highest viewing of government data on the government portal and since we launched the social media platforms.

I shall start with the portal.

We developed the and, which are the same page, on 12 March. Since then, 169,075 users have visited the page over 324, 208 sessions. There have been 564,000 page views. 77,227 of the users are from Bermuda while 57, 291 are from the US. Between them, they had almost half a million page views.

I shall now give details on the top three figures on Facebook.

Facebook views of video:

  • 1 April – 44,900 views – Premier – National Address – Shelter in Place announced
  • March 18 – 17,300 views – press conference – announcing various closures in Bermuda.
  • 30 April – 16, 200 views – Premier, MOH, MONS – Facebook Live

Public Service Announcements on Facebook:

  • 23 April – 22,700 views – Athletes Shelter in Place video
  • Confused about Dos and Don’ts of Covid-19? – 22,300 views
  • How to protect yourself from Covid-19 – 17,700 views

Since 1 March, the Communications team has posted the following on each social media platform:

  • Facebook: 430 posts
  • Twitter: 640 posts
  • Instagram: 100 posts
  • LinkedIn: 11 posts
  • That’s a total of 1,181 posts

Mr Speaker, on Facebook the government currently has more than 10,700 followers who have viewed more than two million minutes of video. There have been 34,000 video engagements – video engagement is defined as the length of time viewers watch a video and then participate in some action around that video, for example, like it, share it and or comment on it. In general, on Facebook there have been 29,000 reactions, 18,000 comments, 6,100 shares and more than 53,000 engagements.

On Twitter we have 4,291 followers, one thousand retweets and more than 2,700 engagements.

On Instagram we have more than 3,700 followers, more than 3,200 likes and 3,200 engagements.

Mr. Speaker, on 23 March, the Government launched their What’sApp service. Anyone who signed up to 504 6045 and sent a message that said ‘hi’ has received messages from the Department of Communications on what is happening with Covid-19. In the last six weeks the total number of messages sent [including all broadcasts and responses to queries] is 325,978. The service has received 11,400 messages from subscribers. As of yesterday, there were 5,250 subscribers.

What should also be noted, Mr. Speaker, is this global pandemic has created a lot of Communications firsts for Bermuda. These include:

  • The first time we have had daily press briefings.
  • The first time we have had speakers in multiple locations going live on Facebook and CITV.
  • Created a purpose built space for press conferences taking into account the need for social distancing.

Mr. Speaker, other than press conferences and the occasional photo- shoot, the team has been able to work effectively from their respective homes, without any interruption in service.

Mr. Speaker, clearly, I can continue to highlight the outstanding work of the Department of Communications but, in the interest of time, I shall shorten this statement. However, before I close I want to recognize the people in Communications who have made these staggering statistics possible:

  • Deputy Director – Communications – Nea Talbot – who is the Communications Officer for National Security, the Cabinet Office and Labour, Community Affairs and Sports;
  • Health Communications Officer – Helen Zoellner [Helen has been seconded to Health during this crisis];
  • Communications Officer for the Premier and Finance – Honey Adams;
  • Communications Officer for Education and Legal Affairs – Tina Evans;
  • Communications Officer for Public Works and Tourism and Transport – Michael Brangman;
  • Communications Officer for Home Affairs – seconded from the Bermuda Police Service – Robin Simmons; The Internal Communications Officer Courtney Bushner has also become the Social Media Officer during the crisis;
  • The Deputy Director – Creative Services is Keno Simmons;
  • There are three graphic designers: DeLeon Grant, Jamie MacDowell and Suzette Sailsman;
  • Two photographers – Stephen Raynor and Jason Swan;
  • One Photo Librarian – Michelle Dismont-Frazzoni;

Mr Speaker, the team at CITV comprises:

  • General Manager – Jannell Ford;
  • Programme Manager – Al Seymour, Jr;
  • Senior Producer – Robert Zuill;
  • Television Editor – Asha Ludwig;
  • Two videographers – Nick-Keymin Spence and Calae Steede

The government switchboard operators are also a part of the Communications team:

  • Senior Customer Service Representative – Maureen Crockwell;
  • Customer Service Representatives – Patsy Lewis and Ryan Smith;
  • Administrative Officer – Gaynell Weeks and Accounts Assistant – Kimberley Spencer;
  • Carly Lodge, the Cultural Affairs Programme Manager in Community and Cultural Affairs, was seconded to Communications and, had sole responsibility for the What’sApp phone.

Mr. Speaker, I have not mentioned the Portals Management team who have been a part of the department since 2016. They have been instrumental in designing the Covid-19 pages on the government website (] and developing all the online forms which Government has produced in the last few months, allowing the organization to function without paper. They are:

  • Assistant Director Portals – David Wellman
  • Portals Administrators – Travis Smith-Simons and Khaliah Nesbitt

Mr. Speaker, this team of highly qualified, hard-working and dedicated professionals is led by Director Aderonke Bademosi Wilson, who also serves as Government’s Crisis Communications Manager.

Mr. Speaker, I have had the pleasure of serving as Minister with responsibility for Communications since 2018. During that time I have been assisted greatly by the leadership of our Director of Communications Aderonke Bademosi Wilson.

Her advice, adaptability, unwavering capacity to simply get things done and her patience with a Minister who, I am told can be quite demanding, have all been at an impeccably high standard. That standard has been raised even higher during what has been an unprecedented time when the demands on her and her team have been like never before.

The way that her team has stepped up and met the call during this pandemic is a reflection not only a strong team effort but, of the leadership of Director Wilson in helping to make it all happen. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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  1. toadinthehole says:

    yes, well done but when there is a budget of $2.5m and a Minister with special responsibility, what do you expect?
    How much of the money spent advertising Govt’s message was spent locally? How much went to facebook and Google?