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Hospital hit by staff Omicron coronavirus variant infections

The King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (File photograph)

Staffing levels at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital have been hit by the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19, it was revealed.

A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board confirmed that 25 staff were off work after they were infected with the strain.

She warned that staff absenteeism because of illness was “likely” to rise – which would put extra pressure on the healthcare system.

The spokeswoman said: “Our services have so far not been impacted by these staff absences, but if we look overseas to the US and UK, we see many hospitals struggling as staff absences increase.

“We are anticipating that we may experience similar pressures in staffing if the rate of infection with Omicron follows the same pattern in Bermuda.

“We are prepared, however. Every precaution staff take while at work and out in the community helps protect them, their families and patients, and helps protect hospital services.”

Earlier variants of the virus – particularly the Delta variant – produced high hospitalisation rates, which sparked fears that the hospital could be swamped with patients and place a strain on healthcare delivery.

The Omicron strain appears to cause milder symptoms – none of the 522 active cases reported last week have needed hospital treatment – but there are fears that staff levels at the KEMH could slashed by the more contagious variant.

The spokeswoman explained: “BHB’s biggest concern with the Omicron variant is how infectious it is.

“As we see community numbers rise, we are more likely to see staff positive cases rise.

“We have 25 staff off work due to positive tests or as close contacts in various departments.”

Michael Richmond, the BHB’s chief executive, confirmed last week that doctors infected with the coronavirus could be forced to work to keep emergency services running.

Dr Richmond said: “We are probably most concerned at this stage what impact it will have on our staff and our ability to staff critical hospital services.”

Kim Wilson, the health minister, did not respond to questions from The Royal Gazette about a potential staffing crisis at the hospital.

But Michael Dunkley, the Opposition health spokesman, said it was vital that the Government assured the public that services would be maintained.

Mr Dunkley added: “From the beginning of the pandemic, the Government has continually stated that making sure the hospital was able to cope was critical in all their policy and restrictions.

“Thus, while we have confidence in the professionals at KEMH, it is incumbent, in light of our fifth surge, that the Government provides confidence to the people of Bermuda that it is on top of and managing the situation.”

Mr Dunkley said: “We are now approaching two years of dealing with the pandemic. Covid-19 has played havoc on the island and indeed throughout the world.

“Lives have been lost, families torn apart, while businesses, careers and economies have been wrecked.

“We have weathered a few waves of Covid with different variants. Scientists and doctors caution that Covid will be with us for the unforeseeable future and unable to predict when it will end.

“Over the past two years we have learnt a lot and now we should be in a better position to deal with an upsurge of cases due to a new variant.”

A Government spokeswoman tonight denied that other essential services were affected by staff infections – but did not reveal the rates for coronavirus-related absenteeism.

The spokeswoman said: “In terms of numbers, staffing levels will always be a fluid situation, as on any given day any particular service may be impacted for a certain period of time due to illness.

“As was the case during the last spike, the public service is managing through any shortages by instituting a mix of rotational, remote, and in office working, when appropriate.

“Government departments also continue to utilise virtual and online methods to provide services to the public.”

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Published January 05, 2022 at 7:56 am (Updated January 05, 2022 at 7:56 am)

Hospital hit by staff Omicron coronavirus variant infections

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