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Decisive action needed – now!

The Royal Gazette published an editorial last week that suggested that minimal spread of the coronavirus could be achieved in Bermuda if those who had travelled in the past fortnight and felt unwell simply stayed away from elderly people and those with underlying health issues such as diabetes.

We got it wrong.

What is now abundantly clear — and some will say it was crystal clear a week ago — is that this island needs to take the most aggressive measures it can to lessen the severity of Covid-19 on our small community.

Bermuda needs to be realistic and decisive — and it needs to act immediately.

The Government's decision yesterday afternoon to require self-quarantining for 14 days for every traveller entering the country, with effect from tomorrow was the right one.

A Bill to that effect will be passed today in Parliament.

The best way to reduce the spread of this droplet-transmission virus is to isolate those coming to our shores and to all stay away from one another as best as we can.

Remember: you are in the danger zone within six feet of a person with the virus and some people with Covid-19 will show no symptoms.

Now other hard decisions need to be taken quickly.

We need to look to Italy and the exponential growth of the coronavirus in the rest of Europe, now the epicentre of the outbreak, and learn from their mistakes.

We need to look to China, where draconian measures were imposed and the number of cases is falling, and determine how we can limit the severe illness that is on the horizon — and worse.

As citizens, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, while we watch the world scramble.

We can all play our part to protect ourselves and one another, to a degree — but much of our population cannot stay home from work and still be sure they will pick up a paycheque.

That is why we need our elected leaders to lead and make the impossible, unpopular decisions for us.

Who would wish to be David Burt in these unprecedented times?

The Premier and his Cabinet colleagues are having to weigh up the devastating economic impact of shutting up shop and admitting that, actually, Bermuda is not entirely open for business against the need to protect us all.

Ultimately, saving lives has to be their No 1 priority.

The Premier's focus has to be on how to prevent the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital — our only acute-care hospital — from becoming overwhelmed with patients in need of isolated care and respirators.

What is apparent from elsewhere is that it is possible to slow the virus and get somewhat ahead of the situation. Even now.

An essay published on March 10 by Tomas Pueyo on details how true cases of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have begun, slowed once the city was shut down and they have continued to fall.

Pueyo makes a powerful case for social-distancing: “Not tomorrow. Today. That means keeping as many people home as possible, starting now.”

He writes: “Countries that act fast can reduce the number of deaths by a factor of ten.”

Mr Burt urged people to wash their hands and practise social-distancing at his press conference on Friday. But that is not enough when schools remain open, sporting events still went ahead at the weekend and church car parks were full yesterday.

Mr Burt urged the country to ensure the new restrictions on movement for travellers were followed in a tweet yesterday afternoon.

“Though it will be not be legally enforceable until Tuesday, STAY HOME!” he wrote.

But it is reasonable to believe the coronavirus is here — we just don't have it confirmed yet, owing to the limited testing that has taken place.

That means everyone who can needs to stay home because we have no idea yet of how widespread it could be.

The Premier should close schools today, suspend the parliamentary budget debates and convene the Emergency Measures Organisation to determine what additional steps need to be taken.

While a small proportion of the population can work from home and have a reasonable expectation of continuing to be paid, there are many in Bermuda who live paycheque to paycheque and don't get paid unless they go to work.

There are also businesses on the brink who will go bankrupt.

The severe financial repercussions of a lockdown are very real. But the Government could consider waiving or delaying first-quarter payroll tax payments, due on April 15.

It could partner with the banks to guarantee credit lines of small businesses to try to help them through.

And it could set up an emergency financial aid fund and food vouchers for casual workers who cannot get paid if they don't show up.

The EMO should also consider whether:

• Care homes for the elderly should be closed to external visitors

• All non-essential services should shut, including restaurants and bars

• The Government needs to ask hotels to start preparing to turn their premises into medical facilities

• A volunteer force needs to be mobilised to help our most vulnerable stay at home

Now is not the time to wring hands about what already should have been done. The scrutiny of our preparedness can come later, as we plan for the next time Nature throws us a devastating curveball.

As we said on Wednesday, now is also not the time for party politics or the blame game.

Bermuda knows how to batten down the hatches — we've had plenty of practice. Now is the time to do that to protect one another.

Orders of the day: David Burt and his government have performed admirably in the face of the growing worldwide crisis, but more forceful messaging is needed, and immediately, to calm an uncertain public (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published March 16, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 16, 2020 at 6:29 pm)

Decisive action needed – now!

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