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Test kits begin to arrive in the thousands

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The “first portion” of supplies to perform 40,000 Covid-19 tests have arrived in Bermuda, the Premier confirmed.

David Burt added that stocks already on the island were sufficient to keep up with the existing need. His comments came at the same time as it was confirmed that Public Health England is expected to provide 2,000 test kits to the island weekly, over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Burt said at a press conference last Thursday: “Last week I reported that [Bermudian geneticist] Dr Carika Weldon had secured the capacity of 40,000 tests here in Bermuda and that was provided by a private donor who had purchased those particular test kits.

“The first portion of those arrived on the British Airways flight and we are going to expect additional items that are coming.

“We do know that we have the testing capacity on island right now to test as much as we need and to ramp up our testing regime and it is my expectation that ... these numbers of the persons of whom we test will increase on a rapid basis.”

The Premier added: “We are perfectly capable and confident that we will be able to have an aggressive testing regime here in Bermuda.”

He explained that “limiting factors” like a global shortage of swabs meant that it was important not to focus too much on the overall number of testing kits.

Mr Burt said on April 3 that the private donor bought the “basic level” to carry out 40,000 tests, but that other equipment was needed.

He explained: “We have the basic re-agent and we have to get various enzymes, but when that is fully scaled up we will have the capacity to do 40,000 tests.”

The Premier was asked at the press conference if Bermuda had also bought 35,000 test kits from the Cayman Islands, as reported in the Cayman Compass last week.

He said he had spoken to Cayman's premier, Alden McLaughlin, on Wednesday, as he was in constant contact with him and the leaders of other British Overseas Territories during the outbreak.

“As we are all looking to procure certain items there isn't a need for all of us to keep working on procuring the same items,” Mr Burt said.

“So from that conversation yesterday there are some items that we've procured which may be in excess of which we are looking to have and there are some items of which there are shortages of.”

Cayman bought 200,000 test kits from South Korea for $4.4 million, according to the Compass, with a local philanthropist picking up half the tab.

Mr Burt said: “Premier McLaughlin said that he bought all those tests. He knew that he would not need all of those tests but that was the minimum order of which he could provide and we were happy to share inside of that particular load.”

Figures updated on Saturday show that 416 tests had so far been carried out in Bermuda, with 50 positives, 351 negatives and 15 results pending.

John Rankin, the Governor, confirmed that he and a team at Government House continued to “work closely with the health authorities in Bermuda and Britain in providing support for the island, including through provision of further testing and personal protection equipment”.

The British Airways charter flight that brought Bermuda residents back to the island last Monday, also delivered PPE and test packs from Britain that provided for between 1,800 and 2,000 tests.

In a statement released earlier this month, Kim Wilson, the health minister, said: “Public Health England, through Crown Agents, have indicated that they will provide this same level of testing capabilities to Bermuda, on a weekly basis.”

A government spokeswoman confirmed last Thursday that PHE was expected to provide about 2,000 test kits a week to Bermuda.

Mr Burt explained last Monday that testing was expected to extend to “frontline workers such as healthcare workers, persons who are working in our nursing homes, and persons who may have been exposed to confirmed cases”.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, added that testing criteria had become “more wide reaching”.

She said: “The World Health Organisation guidance, which we follow, has relaxed slightly … so that the case definition no longer specifies the travel aspect for individuals who are suspect for Covid-19.

“Also, we are now testing persons with respiratory symptoms of any kind.

“However, it is important to note that in order to be tested an individual must first be assessed by their physician who will then refer patients for testing via the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit.”

Ms Wilson added that testing and contact tracing was conducted for “all symptomatic persons”.

A new laboratory enhanced with extra equipment that also arrived on the BA flight last week will be run under Dr Weldon, a researcher at Oxford Genomics Centre, part of Oxford University Hospitals.

The Royal Gazette asked the Government on Thursday night for confirmation that it had bought 35,000 tests from Cayman and that 40,000 tests, with all needed components, had been secured by Dr Weldon.

A response has not yet been received.

Covid-19 testing in progress (Photograph supplied by the Government of Bermuda)
Minister of Health Kim Wilson (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published April 13, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 13, 2020 at 8:59 am)

Test kits begin to arrive in the thousands

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