A time to work together
Bermuda has its first two Covid-19 cases and almost certainly there will be more. At this point, Bermuda, to follow the coronavirus vernacular, is transitioning from the containment phase to the delay phase and, as best can be told, is trying to follow the relatively successful Singapore model.
To be sure, yesterday’s abrupt curtailing of most public services, schools and transport services suggests the Government’s hand was at least to some degree forced by workers who were reluctant to continue to interact with the public.
Having said that, these moves were probably inevitable and there is merit in the idea that if Bermuda takes its medicine early and reduces personal contact quickly, this could “flatten the curve” and prevent a spike in coronavirus cases, unlike what has happened in Italy and elsewhere.
With that in mind, the Government’s calls for non-essential services to be reduced is probably the right one, although it will not take place without pain. But the goal now must be to reduce contagion as quickly as possible, with a view to returning to something approaching normal life more quickly.
Places such as Singapore are indeed doing just that, although it should also be remembered that they began taking the measures Bermuda is undertaking now in January, so this is not a short process at the best of times. It could well be that many activities in Bermuda will be curtailed until May, June or later.
The good news for Bermuda is that we are among the most isolated places on Earth.
Compared to most countries, going into national self-isolation is relatively straightforward. That is not to say that straightforward means easy. All of this requires enormous sacrifices on the part of all people, and severe dislocation on the personal and the economic level.
And, of course, the bad news for Bermuda is that we are among the most isolated places on Earth.
Moving food and other essential supplies to Bermuda is not simple, and will be that much harder with the closure of the airport. Disruptions in the supply chain elsewhere could cause problems. Returning to normal communication and trade with the rest of the world will also be difficult when that occurs.
What cannot be overemphasised is that the health and wellbeing of all of our residents must be the community’s first priority. This starts with personal responsibility; those people who are in isolation or quarantine must adhere to the requirements, not for themselves, but for those around them, especially those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus.
For people who are not in quarantine, now is the time to follow the rules of social-distancing, including regular handwashing, eliminating physical contact with others, standing a safe distance away from others, ensuring that surfaces are regularly disinfected and so on. These are inconveniences, but hardly life-changing requirements; compared with potentially saving a person’s life, they are minuscule.
At this point, it is vitally important for people to reduce contact with those who are most vulnerable — the elderly and those with, for example, reduced lung function or other disabilities. This can be painful, especially for grandparents cut off from their loved ones or for already lonely people to be further isolated. But the faster it is put in place, the faster things can return to normal. Delay will make this situation much worse.
At the same time, Bermuda is facing an unprecedented threat, and one that is, to a great extent, outside the living memories of most people. Not since the Second World War has Bermuda faced such a threat to its safety and economic wellbeing, but even then, the presence of large military garrisons, which had to be fed and entertained, ensured there was some activity on the island.
This crisis is different. Bermuda is well equipped and able to handle a hurricane or similar disaster that is short and sharp in duration. No one can say for sure how long the present crisis will last. Businesses, schools and other services are being closed with no real idea of when they will be able to reopen. People are seeing their work end with no return date.
Government and businesses, to their enormous credit, are offering relief and assistance to those who will undoubtedly need it. But they are doing so with no real idea of how long this will last or how great the demand will be.
It is not clear whether Bermuda’s health services and hospital will handle the likely upsurge in cases or if they will be overwhelmed by it. But what is clear is that people who are not facing life-threatening situations should follow the advice that is out there — contact your doctor before going to the emergency room, and then follow the advice you are given.
At the same time, if you think you have the symptoms of coronavirus, then seek help, first from your doctor. Do not continue to work, for whatever reason; such an act could turn out to be fatal for someone else.
What should be abundantly clear is that now is the time to follow the advice of health experts and to follow the social-distancing practices, which should be known to all by now. If we as a community do this quickly, we stand a better chance of reducing the impact of coronavirus. If we put our own needs before others’, we will extend and exacerbate this crisis indefinitely.
More than anything, residents need to be calm, but not complacent. Bermuda is not going to run out of food — or toilet paper — anytime soon. People should conserve, but not hoard. They should think of others who are less fortunate than themselves and be prepared to help them. They should take sensible steps to isolate themselves and not be reckless.
If Bermuda takes these steps, we may be fortunate enough to survive this with the least upheaval necessary. Other countries have. But it has taken calm deliberation and a degree of sacrifice to do so. In this case, we need to separate in order to come through this together.
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