Bermuda braces for coronavirus

  • ‘Taking this threat extremely seriously’: David Burt, the Premier.

    ‘Taking this threat extremely seriously’: David Burt, the Premier.


Bermudian businesses have imposed travel restrictions as the worldwide spread of a killer strain of coronavirus continued.

A spokesman for HSBC said the bank had “restricted travel to a number of destinations until further notice” as the death toll from Covid-19 reached more than 3,000.

The spokesman added the ban, included in advice to HSBC staff on hygiene and which also warned them to stay at home or see a doctor if they felt ill, would not affect bank services.

John Huff, chief executive of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers, said last night: “We are monitoring the situation closely, but Bermuda is open for business.”

The news came as a doctor warned that all health workers should be fitted with protective masks — although the supply on the island and around the world was “very limited”.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, predicted last Friday that it was “likely just a matter of time” before the virus outbreak reached Bermuda.

The outbreak, which began in China at the start of the year, had yesterday spread to places such as New York City — a short flight from the island.

Bermuda was ranked lowest risk on the US Department of State’s four-tier travel risk advisory last night, with travellers told to “exercise normal precautions”.

David Burt, the Premier, joined other government officials yesterday to make sure everything possible was being done to safeguard Bermuda from the virus and that the island was prepared in case of an outbreak.

Steps to be taken as a result of the meeting included bringing people into the Ministry of Health from other departments and the procurement of “additional protective resources” for the community.

Mr Burt said: “We want members of the public to know that we are taking this threat extremely seriously.

“The protection of the health of our people is of the utmost importance and I want to reassure the public that we will use the full scope of our resources to protect Bermuda’s residents.”

A health ministry spokeswoman added: “The Government is prepared to provide any additional necessary funding required to prevent, treat and contain a covid-19 outbreak, should one occur, including any additional hospital expenses to handle an extraordinary situation.”

Stephen West, a paediatrician, said he and his practice partner had been test-fitted by the Department of Health for N95 masks, which offer a high degree of protection from airborne particles. Dr West said the test ensured a mask offered a good seal on the face.

He explained: “That way you will be protected when dealing with a patient that is potentially infectious. All healthcare workers should be fit tested. Unfortunately, my understanding is that our supply on island, and in fact around the world, is very limited.

“I believe that the hospital has a supply, and I believe that the Department of Health has some as well.”

However, Dr West added: “My further understanding is that at present we do not have a supply of masks for the private physicians’ offices.

“We have looked locally and overseas at various medical supply companies and have been unable to find any to purchase.

“We found one company locally with N95 masks, but these are not the ones that the Department of Health fit-tests for.”

Dr West said he understood the health department was “attempting to procure a supply of N95 masks — but I am not sure whether this has been successful or, if so, when they will arrive”.

The public in the United States have been asked not to buy N95 masks to maintain the supply to health workers.

The Bermuda Hospitals Board said anyone who feared they could have the virus, or who had been in contact with potential transmission risks, should “stay at home, call your GP or the Emergency Department from home and follow instructions — don’t just turn up”.

The precaution, designed to reduce infection risk, was backed by a GP yesterday.

The doctor, who asked not to be named, said: “We as GPs do not want these patients close to our offices.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said hospital quarantine capacity was “in place”, and that a “non-hospital quarantine facility for individuals who are not ill is being finalised”.

Self-quarantine at home is in use for those with “a higher risk travel history/potential exposure”.

She said travellers at ports of entry were being questioned first by customs, with health staff available for a second round.

She added: “The latter are community health nurses trained in public health practice or the Surveillance Nurse or the Nurse Epidemiologist from the Ministry of Health.”

The Covid-19 virus, which has infected about 90,000 people around the world, also caused the ITU World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi to be called off — although the MS Amlin World Triathlon Series planned for Bermuda next month is still expected to be held.

Zane DeSilva, the Minister of Tourism and Transport, told the House of Assembly yesterday the impact of coronavirus on cruise ship visits was “an unknown factor at this time”.

A ministry spokesman added later: “The Ministry of Tourism and Transport can confirm that thus far there has been no negative impact to the 2020 cruise ship schedule.

“In fact, the Ministry has fielded requests to accommodate additional cruise calls. However with limited space, we can only accommodate so many and are advising cruise operators of what space is available.

“As stated in the Budget debate, we are expecting 100 contract calls and 93 occasional calls which is the most Bermuda has ever received.

“Furthermore, Bermuda remains free of Covid-19 and Government has committed the full force of its resources to safeguard Bermuda from the virus and is prepared for the eventuality of an outbreak.”

The World Health Organisation has warned that older people and those with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes appeared to “develop serious illness more often than others”.

At-risk people were advised by the Bermuda Diabetes Association to wash their hands after they touched surfaces in public places such as supermarkets and to carry hand sanitisers.

Debbie Jones, the association’s chairwoman, said: “We are absolutely pushing for people to do that. I think a lot of us don’t wash our hands enough. If you go somewhere, if you open a door someone else has touched, you should immediately wash your hands.

“The WHO has also said the healthier you are, the better chance you have of fighting the virus off, so eating healthily and drinking plenty of water helps.

“We’re telling everybody to get hand sanitiser and to carry it with them.”

UPDATE: This story was amended to add comments from a Ministry of Tourism and Transport spokesman, and a Ministry of Health spokeswoman.

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Published Mar 3, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 3, 2020 at 11:02 am)

Bermuda braces for coronavirus

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