Test kits worth $264,000 still unused
More than $260,000 worth of coronavirus test kits bought from the Cayman Islands have never been used, the health ministry has said.
The 12,000 kits, flown to the island from London on April 24, were part of an order placed by the Cayman Islands from a supplier on South Korea, but sold on to Bermuda at a cost of $264,000.
A spokeswoman explained that regular supplies from Britain meant that the tests — which had not been given emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration at the time they were bought — had not been needed so far.
She said last week: “We have not yet used these kits here in Bermuda.”
The spokeswoman added that donated kits from the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which already had FDA emergency use authorisation, arrived “so regularly that we haven't had a need to use them yet”.
She said: “These are the kits the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory have used from the start and for continuity will continue to use.”
It was confirmed last month that Public Health England was expected to provide about 2,000 test kits a week to Bermuda.
David Burt, the Premier, said in statement to the House of Assembly last Friday that the kits delivered to the island and paid for by the UK's conflict, security and stability fund had to that point included 15,000 PCR — polymerase chain reaction — tests.
Government House said today that the number of separate PCR tests that the UK has supplied to Bermuda, paid for by that fund, now stands at more than 18,000.
The health ministry spokeswoman explained that the tests bought from Cayman were made by a company called Seasun Biomaterials.
She added that when the South Korean coronavirus detection kits were bought by Bermuda they “were not FDA-approved, yet were under review”.
The spokeswoman said: “They subsequently received FDA EUA approval on April 27.
“In this instance, had we waited for the FDA EUA approval, we wouldn't have been able to secure them.
“We trusted the South Korean approval, which then the USA approved.”
The Cayman Compass reported on April 8 that the UK Overseas Territory had received a shipment of 165,000 test kits bought by its government from Seasun Biomaterials, with a further 35,000 tests on their way via London.
It said: “The overall cost of the 200,000 kits was US$4.4 million, or US$22 per kit, according to a press release from the Office of the Governor.
“The Cayman Islands Government is picking up the bill for half the cost, while local philanthropist Susan Anne Olde donated the other half.”
The newspaper reported the next day that an agreement was reached for Bermuda to buy a chunk of the order.
Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman premier, told the Cayman Compass: “We have well in excess of what we need.
“We bought 200,000 because that is the smallest amount they were prepared to sell.”
A Bermuda Government spokeswoman said later that talks to finalise the size of the order continued and that when the kits arrived “they will need to be validated with our equipment to ensure we can use them”.
Mr Burt said on April 19 that 10,000 test kits bought from the Cayman Islands would arrive on an air-bridge flight from London on April 24.
A government spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that $264,000 was paid to the Cayman Islands Government for 12,000 tests.
The Royal Gazette asked for more information about the kits after Mr Burt told a press conference on April 27: “No one actually in the Cayman Islands questioned as to whether or not their testing kits were FDA-approved. They were not.”
The health ministry spokeswoman also said last week that the Bermuda Government MDL at Southside in St David's and Helix Genetic and Scientific Solutions were being used by the Ministry of Health “fully and flexibly”.
She added: “To date MDL has been charged with processing large-volume runs such as the drive-through and quarantine hotels.
“However, this is evolving as our testing priorities adapt to combat Covid.”
Kim Wilson, the health minister, said this month: “Now that we have a government lab that is being paid for by the Government, we felt from an economic point of view that it would be more cost-effective to the taxpayers for us to terminate the contract with Helix lab and continue utilising the Southside lab and utilise Helix on an as-needed basis, because we need to make sure that we have a redundancy, if something happens at the Southside lab.”
A health ministry spokeswoman explained later that the Government had “moved to terminate the existing contract with Helix and enter into a revised contract”.
But she said last week: “To date Government has not entered into a new contract with Helix lab.
“The testing strategy is under review and will be organised to best suit our country's needs.”