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Thermal screening at ports for Covid-19

Temperature checks could soon be introduced at all of the island's ports in efforts to protect against a potential killer strain of coronavirus, the Minister of Health said yesterday.

Kim Wilson told the House of Assembly that officials were due to meet a vendor today, although it was still not clear what type of thermal screening equipment would be used.

The Opposition One Bermuda Alliance suggested that consideration of the measure in the battle against Covid-19 could have taken place earlier.

MPs heard about the island's preparedness for the bug shortly before the World Health Organisation labelled the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic, which is a disease spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time.

Craig Cannonier, the OBA leader, pointed out that temperature screening was taking place at borders all over the world and asked the health minister if there were plans to do the same in Bermuda.

Ms Wilson replied yesterday: “The Ministry of Health is exploring all avenues as it relates to prevention and included in that ... is the investigation of the temperature systems, whether or not it's the handheld one or one that you walk through, we are exploring all that.

“In fact, we have a meeting tomorrow with a potential vendor and we have also sourced vendors that can provide that particular mechanism.

“Which mechanism is utilised I can't speak to at this point, but we are in the process, currently, of looking at a particular thermal scanner and acquiring such a scanner for our ports of entry.”

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, asked how long it would take for the thermal screening equipment to be in place.

She added: “It would appear that we could have been a little bit more proactive as opposed to just exploring now. I'm just wondering how far away are the receipt of the thermal monitors.”

Ms Wilson replied that the person tasked with procuring items needed in Bermuda, including face masks and personal protective equipment, was also looking at the acquisition of thermal screening devices.

Ben Smith, the Shadow Minister of Youth, Sport and Social Development, pointed out that, internationally, “we have seen some major changes in how people are dealing with large gatherings”, particularly sports events.

He asked what plans were in place for dealing with how Bermuda might be similarly affected. Ms Wilson said: “I couldn't stand here and correctly say that it's business as usual because we recognise that we are in a very challenging time right now.

“The Government is committed to doing what we can to address this issue, however, we do recognise that there will be economic impact and there will likely be events that are going to be cancelled and persons will choose for a number of reasons not to participate in that particular event.”

She added that the Government had made no decisions about whether there would be travel restrictions imposed on people coming into Bermuda or “whether or not we wish to cancel any type of public gathering”, although talks were ongoing.

Ms Wilson provided an update about preparations for Covid-19 in a ministerial statement yesterday, when she told MPs that tests for the strain were performed on eight people in Bermuda — three proved negative with results pending on the others.

The island sends its samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, in Trinidad, and the turnaround time for results is four to five days.

Ms Wilson said: “Currently there is no commercially available scientifically valid rapid test that can provide instant results in the world.

“However, we are exploring additional testing options in collaboration with local and international partners and the Government will ensure that tests can be conducted locally at the earliest opportunity.”

Provision for duty relief on personal protective equipment and supplies used solely for disease prevention and control was included in the Customs Tariff Amendment Act 2020, which was tabled by Curtis Dickinson, the Minister of Finance, in the House yesterday.

Ms Wilson stressed that anyone experiencing symptoms of fever, coughing and difficulty breathing should call their healthcare provider and share any previous travel history.

Those people were asked not to “just show up” at healthcare facilities.

Open Airways, a charity that helps people with asthma and other long-term breathing difficulties, reminded sufferers to take preventer inhalers daily as prescribed and to always carry emergency or relief inhalers.

The organisation said: “We know respiratory infections can trigger asthma symptoms, and we know people with asthma and other respiratory diseases are more likely to suffer from serious complications from the virus.”

It repeated guidance for preventing flu or the effects of Covid-19, including frequent handwashing with soap and water or an alcohol hand sanitiser; coughing or sneezing into an elbow or a tissue; and avoiding contact with people who show signs of respiratory problems.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said yesterday: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of Covid-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

“There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.

“Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.

“We have, therefore, made the assessment that Covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.”

He said the word was not to be used lightly and that “if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death”.

The WHO director-general said that the label did not change his organisation's assessment of the threat posed by the virus, nor what countries should do.

Cheryl Peek-Ball, Bermuda's Chief Medical Officer, said yesterday that there were, at that time, no confirmed Covid-19 cases on the island.

She added: “As of noon today, 44 people in Bermuda are self-monitoring with public health supervision.”

Have you been asked to quarantine because of illness? Share your experience and e-mail us at news@royalgazette.com

Challenging time: Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health and Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, during a press conference regarding the coronavirus last month (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 12, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 12, 2020 at 8:59 am)

Thermal screening at ports for Covid-19

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