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Health minister says Weldon’s departure from MDL will have no effect on testing services

Carika Weldon at work in the Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory, which heads the Government’s Covid-19 test programme (File photograph)

The loss of the Government’s science adviser and head of its Covid-19 test lab in just 18 days’ time will have no effect on the lab’s performance, the health minister declared yesterday.

Kim Wilson said the resignation of Carika Weldon, the executive director of the Molecular Diagnostic and Research Laboratory, would not have “any impact at all”.

She added: “You asked me on a scale of one to ten, ten being impactful — I would say one.

“I do not anticipate any missteps or any impact by Dr Weldon’s departure.”

Ms Wilson was speaking after questions on the Government’s succession plan for the lab were unanswered by the Cabinet Office.

Dr Weldon quit the job in the wake of a collapse of the test system at the start of this month.

She told The Royal Gazette earlier that her repeated warnings to the Government on the over-ambitious schedule for return-to-school PCR testing had gone unheeded.

She also revealed that she had just started a new three-year contract at $240,000 a year.

Dr Weldon said she had warned that it would be impossible for the lab to meet the schedule of thousands of back-to-school PCR tests in the middle of the island’s fifth Covid-19 surge.

Despite her concerns, which Dr Weldon said she first raised on December 29, the Government stuck to a schedule for teachers and staff to return on January 4 and for pupils to follow on January 5.

But a U-turn was announced on January 4 and a staggered reopening of public schools was carried out instead because insufficient staff and pupils had been cleared.

The crisis also caused long delays for test results for travellers. Some missed flights and others had to isolate for several days as they awaited results.

Testing at MDL remained at least two days behind schedule this week.

Ms Wilson said: “Dr Weldon has assisted tremendously in the training of other persons that work in MDL.”

She added that the Government would be able to use alternative labs if required.

Ms Wilson said: “When we first started having testing in Bermuda, we had to send all of our testing overseas. One of the private labs, Helix, stepped up to the plate and assisted us.

“We have sufficient resources here in Bermuda and, notwithstanding the tremendous impact that Dr Weldon has provided to the services of Bermuda, MDL will continue to run.

“I do not anticipate any adverse impact in her departure with respect to our continuation of testing in Bermuda.”

Ms Wilson referred questions on who would replace Dr Weldon to the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for MDL.

The Gazette sent questions to the Cabinet Office on Wednesday on the impact Dr Weldon’s resignation might have on the testing service.

Officials were asked if a replacement was being looked for and whether the Government had advertised overseas as well as on the island.

The Gazette also queried whether an in-house candidate was being prepared to run the lab.

A government spokeswoman said yesterday: “Planning has begun to effect a seamless transition in the management of the MDL lab.”

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Published January 14, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated January 14, 2022 at 7:46 am)

Health minister says Weldon’s departure from MDL will have no effect on testing services

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