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‘Advice lacking’ after flight virus scare

Travellers who arrived in Bermuda on the same flight as a sick passenger who was later tested for the coronavirus got no health advice after landing, it was claimed yesterday.

The man coughed and sneezed during the American Airlines flight from Miami on Wednesday evening and was taken to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital after the plane landed at LF Wade International Airport.

He has since been discharged and the Government's Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit said in a statement last night it could “confirm that for those travellers on the Miami flight AA308 ... there is no need to take any extraordinary measures for infection prevention or control. There appears to be no need for isolation or self-quarantine of the passengers on the flight in question”.

A government press release earlier in the day said the passenger was tested both for the fast-spreading Covid-19 virus and for influenza, with results still pending.

It said: “That passenger had no travel history which would classify them as ‘high-risk' for Covid-19 as they had not been to a country identified by the World Health Organisation as one with ongoing transmission of Covid-19.”

The ESU statement, released just after 8pm, did not mention whether the man had tested negative for Covid-19, which has so far infected nearly 97,000 people in 81 countries and killed more than 3,300.

There are now at least 205 cases in the United States, including four in Florida.

Health minister Kim Wilson explained on Tuesday that, for Bermuda, testing for the coronavirus could only be done overseas and that “four to five days is the standard turnaround time to get a result”.

A source close to the patient told The Royal Gazette the patient tested positive for flu at KEMH and was sent home yesterday morning, with advice to avoid contact with others.

The source said the man, who lives in Bermuda, fell ill on a return flight from a holiday in Trinidad, connecting via Miami.

He developed flu-like symptoms and his condition worsened on the flight here.

Flight attendants agreed with the sick man's request to be isolated at the back of the plane and he was given a mask to wear before landing.

The source, who asked not to be named, questioned why the patient was led through the arrivals area by a nurse on duty, rather than being taken out of the airport via an isolated route.

A passenger who was sitting three or four rows ahead of the sick man on the plane told The Royal Gazette he was alarmed there was no guidance from officials for those arriving on the same flight.

“Everybody got off the flight and went through immigration and customs,” said the man, who also asked not to be identified.

“I asked them about this individual. I asked why there was a sick person on the flight and we were all going home.

“There was no concern. There didn't seem to be anybody that was in a position to make an announcement or anything to tell people what they should have done.”

The man said the passenger coughed and sneezed throughout the flight.

“They asked for a medic on board to go and assist this guy with about 20 minutes to go. Someone went back there. I grabbed my bag and went towards the front.”

He said the sick passenger left the plane first, on foot and wearing a mask, via the rear exit.

Taxi driver David Zuill said he picked up a passenger from the flight who was worried that everyone was allowed to leave without clear instructions on what to do.

“He didn't want to go home to his family,” said Mr Zuill, who took the passenger to a hotel instead. “He didn't want to take the potential virus home.”

The cabby said as soon as he dropped off the passenger he called into his dispatcher, Island Taxi Service, to alert other drivers.

“I felt sort of bad about it, in that so many people were unaware,” he said. “They put it on the radio service as to the possibility of them being contaminated.”

Mr Zuill said he was careful to thoroughly wash his hands after dropping the passenger off.

“A taxi driver takes the luggage and handles it,” he said. “I don't want to see an epidemic. I have got children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Government did not respond last night to the claims about a lack of guidance for passengers.

The government press release said the passenger was taken to hospital “out of an abundance of caution”, even though his travel history was not of concern.

A spokeswoman explained that Bermuda takes note as countries are added to the risk assessment lists of the WHO, Public Health England and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and considers whether to add them to Bermuda's list.

Neither the US nor Trinidad are on Bermuda's list of countries which require passengers arriving here to self-isolate until a risk assessment is completed by a public health officer.

The countries on the list are China, Iran, Northern Italy, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The press release said Ministry of Health staff were contacting passengers on the Miami flight to ask them to self-monitor for symptoms.

Ms Wilson said: “We understand and appreciate that other passengers on that flight are feeling concerned and anxious and may have questions, so we are in the process of setting up a hotline for those individuals so they can call and speak to a medical professional.”

The spokeswoman added: “Personnel are currently being trained to man the telephone line, which will be up and running as soon as possible.”

A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman could not comment on the patient, but said: “We have infection control processes that are used for people with infectious diseases, from personal protective equipment for staff, to negative pressure rooms — this means air cannot flow out of a room — on each floor of the acute care wing.”

AA did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

• For daily updates on travel advice visit www.gov.bm/health-information.

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Published March 06, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated March 06, 2020 at 8:46 am)

‘Advice lacking’ after flight virus scare

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