Covid-19: decisive action needed
On Sunday evening, it was announced that two people had died of Covid-19 over the weekend, the first deaths since January and the thirteenth and fourteenth since the beginning of the pandemic.
Last night, 69 new cases were announced after 108 new cases were recorded over Wednesday and Thursday. The total number of active cases is now 656, yet another record high. This outbreak, as the graphs show, dwarfs the previous spikes.
The statistics alone show that Bermuda is in the midst of its greatest pandemic threat. It has been caused by the rapid spread of the UK variant, which is more virulent than the original Covid-19 strain. Two deaths, with five people in critical care and another 17 in hospital, should be enough to show that this is a crisis.
This outbreak was initially notable for the lack of severe symptoms, but as Chief Medical Officer Ayoola Oyinloye predicted at the press conference last week, the pattern of the UK variant has been for serious symptoms and hospital admissions to occur two to three weeks after the beginning of the increases in cases. Dr Oyinloye probably wished he was wrong. He was not. He also said deaths take two to three more weeks to occur — here the variant seems to be tragically ahead of schedule. That suggests there is worse to come.
These are more than numbers; these are lives. The families of two more victims have joined the families of 12 already in mourning. Many more people are dealing with the long-term effects of Covid-19. And right now, several thousand people are in quarantine.
Bermuda is very close to losing control of this third outbreak, if it has not already. It is in a race to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the contagion spreads, but more severe measures may be needed.
That’s because there is simply not enough time. To date, 55,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been delivered to Bermuda. Another 22,000 doses are due to arrive tonight, making a total of 77,000. After allowing for wastage, that means there is enough for about 37,000 people to be fully immunised with two doses, which is about 56 per cent of the population — just 14 percentage points short of the 70 per cent the Government says is needed for herd immunity.
But because people must wait three weeks for their second dose, and another two weeks after that for full efficacy, Bermuda is five weeks away from even that level of safety, and presumably at least another month away from getting to herd immunity.
By global standards, that is vastly better than most countries, but it still gives this variant another two months or so to spread unless other measures are taken.
That’s why Bermuda needs to accelerate the vaccination programme. There are several ways of doing this. Hours at the vaccination centres need to be expanded and the adult children of nursing-home residents need to give permission for their parents — the most vulnerable in the population — to be immunised.
Bermuda also needs to determine if it can accelerate its supply, if not from Britain, which has made its already generous and welcome policy clear and has adhered to it, but from the Covax facility.
It may also be worth increasing the number of people who receive a first dose in order to ensure that more people have at least some immunity.
But speeding up the vaccination programme alone may not be enough.
So far the Government has tightened up social-distancing restrictions, but these have not yet had the desired effect of slowing the infection rate. If there is no appreciable slowdown in the infection rate in the next two days or so, the Ministry of Education and private schools must delay the start of in-person teaching when the new term begins on Monday.
Short of a total shutdown, it is difficult to predict how much further the Government can go with other restrictions, but it may be necessary to further tighten the night-time curfew and the proportion of people in shops and other public places.
Most offices are already restricting in-office activities, but companies that need people in their buildings also need to find ways to spread people out or alter work hours so there are fewer people on the ground at any one time.
The other option, which is unappetising, is a short, sharp shutdown to stop the spread of the infection in its tracks. Britain, which has been in lockdown since early January, is finally emerging now, as a result of its own successful vaccination programme and isolation requirements. There are fears that the third wave sweeping across much of the Continent may yet cross the English Channel, but for now Britain has shown that the variant can be overcome.
As has always been the case with the Covid-19, early and decisive action pays off. Delay results in longer lockdowns, and more economic and personal pain. So the Cabinet should consider doing more sooner in the hope that this will stave off more pain later.
The longer the pandemic lasts, the more individuals question the validity of lockdowns and efforts to flatten the curve. The vocal minority that wants people to believe that the coronavirus is a hoax or that the vaccine is unsafe is growing in numbers as pandemic fatigue increases.
That most of these beliefs are scientific and medical nonsense seems not to matter. But it is for this reason that the Government and other responsible authorities must move to slow down this wave. Delay will only make it worse.