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Preparations under way for coronavirus

Extra supplies of hand sanitiser are to be imported and handed out free of charge, the Government said last night.

The move came as the island braced itself for the possible arrival of the potential killer coronavirus strain Covid-19.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, said the hand sanitiser would be available at government offices and distributed around the island, with at-risk people like seniors given priority.

She added: “Government will waive customs duty on hand sanitiser, protective masks and other supplies as the Department of Health deems necessary in the fight against influenza and Covid-19.”

Ms Wilson added that Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer, had yesterday written to business organisations around the island to offer advice on how to combat “the emerging public health threat” from the new virus strain.

She said non-essential travel to areas with cases of the virus should be avoided and advice on the need to wash hands “often and well” with soap and water, cover coughs, and that people should stay at home if they felt ill.

Dr Peek-Ball's letter added that companies should hand out disinfectant wipes to staff and provide hand sanitiser in reception and communal areas.

The letter said cleaners should also be told to wipe down often-touched places such as door handles, access keypads, taps, coffee pots, kettles, fridge handles and water cooler taps.

Dr Peek-Ball added: “The Ministry of Health has received many calls from members of the business community lately seeking advice on whether or not to travel to certain places for work-related activities.”

She said people should visit www.gov.bm/health-information for the latest travel advice.

Dr Peek-Ball added: “Certain places have a high level of transmission so, if you go, you may be asked to self quarantine upon return.

“Likewise, if you go to a place with a lower level of transmission, you may be asked to self-monitor on return to Bermuda.”

However, she warned travellers the situation “is fluid, so you may visit a country deemed to be low risk which may elevate to high risk while you are there and therefore this would require you to follow more intense monitoring when you return.” The news came as six out of seven direct-flight destinations from Bermuda had confirmed cases of a new strain of coronavirus by yesterday afternoon.

The United Kingdom, where British Airways operates to London Gatwick, had the highest number, with 51 cases of the potential killer Covid-19 strain.

Ontario, Canada, where Air Canada and WestJet operate services to Toronto, had 20.

Bermuda also has direct flights to Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New York City.

There were three confirmed cases in Florida and two each in New York state, Massachusetts and Georgia. Pennsylvania had no reported coronavirus cases yesterday, but it was said the state would begin to test for Covid-19 immediately.

Bermuda has not imposed travel restrictions to block visitors from entry in the wake of the outbreak.

David Burt, the Premier, said on Monday the virus threat was taken “extremely seriously” and the Government would “use the full scope of our resources to protect Bermuda's residents”.

Travellers arriving at ports of entry are first questioned by customs officials and community health nurses are available to carry out further screening.

The Covid-19 virus has infected about 90,000 people around the world so far, including hundreds on board the once-Bermudian-registered, now British-flagged, cruise ship Diamond Princess, which is quarantined in Yokohama, Japan.

A Ministry of Tourism and Transport spokesman said the virus had not affected the 2020 Bermuda cruise ship schedule.

He added: “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.”

The spokesman said the island expected a record number of cruise ship calls this year, with 100 contract visits and 93 occasional calls.

He added: “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.”

In response to further questions, the spokesman said: “With the focus on Covid-19 and how it can impact Bermuda, the Ministry of Tourism and Transport understands why the number of cruise lines visiting Bermuda may be of concern.

“However, the ministry can confirm that it is not unusual for the Department of Marine and Ports Services to receive requests for additional cruise visits, as it happens every year.

“Accepting the requests depends on berth availability and whether or not we can accommodate them.

“As such, we cannot call the requests an increase per se, but rather a normal part of the year-round cruise ship business.

“With that said, Government and the Department of Health continues to monitor the situation in our cruise ship ports and should an issue arise that poses a risk to the people of Bermuda, we are prepared to take the appropriate steps to safeguard the wellbeing of our country.”

A Skyport spokeswoman described the measures being taken at the airport.

She said: “Skyport has implemented measures to support the Ministry of Health in its government-led efforts to detect and manage the possible importation of coronavirus.

“Health awareness information is being shared with arriving passengers at the LF Wade International Airport on the digital screens in the immigration hall.

“An isolation area has been set up in the hall for health officials to assess passengers travelling from high-risk countries, or who are exhibiting symptoms of illness.

“Additionally, public health and safety audio messaging is being broadcast on the PA system throughout the terminal.

“Finally, Skyport has increased the frequency of cleaning activities throughout the terminal, with priority placed on areas anticipated to have elevated risks for viral contact.”

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “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.”

For more information on precautions, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and the UK Government's guidance for employers and businesses

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Published March 04, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated March 04, 2020 at 8:53 am)

Preparations under way for coronavirus

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