New Covid-19 variant sparks mask warning from top doctor
A senior doctor appealed to people yesterday to keep wearing masks to protect themselves and others against Covid-19 – after the Government relaxed public health rules.
Wesley Miller, the Chief of Staff at the Bermuda Hospitals Board, was speaking after it was revealed that a more contagious type of the Omicron variant had been detected on the island.
Dr Miller warned that people should still wear masks to protect the vulnerable.
He said: “It is important to note that there are still many people in our community who would be at risk from this variant, whether it’s due to age, illness or not being vaccinated.
“We should continue to mask and keep physically distant where possible as in this way we look out for each other and safeguard those who are most vulnerable to the worst that Covid can do.”
Dr Miller added: “Covid has not gone away and we know that the situation could change quickly if hospitalisations rise, or a new variant that is more severe or deadly starts to spread.”
The new strain – known as BA.2 – has caused an increase in infection rates in the US and Europe in recent weeks.
The Government relaxed mask-wearing measures at the beginning of April after a drop in the number of active cases.
Businesses are now allowed to set their own policies and many opted to drop the requirement for compulsory mask wearing.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, told businesses: “Assess the situational risks involved and develop an appropriate mask policy with safety as the priority.”
But she also appealed to people to continue to wear masks, even though it was no longer mandatory.
The rule was also relaxed in schools after the Government came under pressure from school principals.
Diallo Rabain, the education minister, told the public there would be "a shift from government-mandated safety measures to personal responsibility for yourself and those around you“.
Dr Miller added that the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital was on alert should there be another spike in cases.
He said: “At KEMH, we are watching admissions very closely and we remain at disaster alert level 2 – which is a ready state of preparedness.”
Ms Wilson said when she announced the relaxation of the rules: “Masks effectively control the spread of the virus, and anyone who wishes to wear a mask is encouraged to continue to wear one, especially when physical distancing is impossible indoors, outdoors, when we are around strangers and in poorly ventilated settings.”
The Government revealed last week that the BA.2 strain had been detected on the island.
A spokeswoman for the health ministry said: “Given the increased transmissibility of BA.2, it is likely that BA.2 is the predominant strain at this time.”
The Government was last week asked it would consider the reintroduction of mandatory masks because of the BA.2 variant.
Officials were also asked if there was any disagreement between Dr Miller and politicians over what the policy should be.
The Government has not responded.