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Hospitals under pressure from Covid-19

Under pressure: an increase in the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations is stretching resources at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (File photograph)

Services at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital are being stretched by “increasing numbers” of Covid-19 patients who are putting “increasing pressure” on the facility’s resources, the hospital said last night.

There are now 56 patients in the island’s only medical hospital and the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute, a spokeswoman said, confirming a statement made by David Burt, the Premier, on Friday.

On Wednesday, the health ministry said there were 28 people in hospital with Covid-19. However, the spokeswoman pointed out that that number only covered people on acute care and critical care wards, whereas the 56 patients included long-term care patients in KEMH and MWI.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, also said on Friday that there had been two Covid-19 deaths in the past week, but it was not clear whether that included the death reported on Wednesday.

The hospital spokeswoman also said 84 staff members were off work last week with Covid-19 or as close contacts of positive cases compared to 54 just one week earlier.

Mr Burt spoke out after Ms Wilson told MPs that new variants of the Omicron virus are almost certainly dominant in Bermuda.

One of them is considered to be highly contagious and able to infect vaccinated people and those who have already had Covid-19.

The regulations, which make the wearing of masks mandatory in certain places such as rest homes and on public transport, were set to expire at the end of this month. The Government sought to extend them until the end of September.

Presenting the order last night, Ms Wilson said that the spread of the virus remained “uncertain and unpredictable”.

She told MPs that, according to the World Health Organisation, the number of Covid-19 cases globally had risen by 30 per cent in the past two weeks.

She said that new, highly transmissible variants of the virus were responsible for the global increase, and that they were now almost certainly present in Bermuda.

Ms Wilson said: “There are greater numbers of people visiting the hospital’s emergency department with symptoms, and admissions to KEMH are increasing.”

She added that the case count was largely driven by newly identified BA.4 and BA.5 variants, coupled with a general relaxation of public safety restrictions.

Ms Wilson said: “We are still waiting for analysis from overseas, but there’s a very strong likelihood and we’re fairly convinced subject to confirmation that we should receive any day now that BA.4 and BA.5 are the dominant variants here in Bermuda as well as other jurisdictions.”

What is Omicron BA.5?

CNN reported this week that BA.5 has three key mutations in its spike protein that make it both better at infecting our cells and more adept at slipping past our immune defences.

In just over two months, BA.5 outcompeted its predecessors to become the dominant cause of Covid-19 in the US. Last week, it caused almost two out of every three new Covid-19 infections in the US, according to the latest data from the Centres for Disease Control.

CNN said laboratory studies of antibodies from the blood of people who've been vaccinated or recovered from recent Covid-19 infections have looked at how well they stand up to BA.5, and this sub-variant can outmanoeuvre them. So people who have had Covid as recently as winter or even spring may again be vulnerable to the virus.

Ms Wilson said the virus was putting “significant pressures” on the health system, with one third of acute care wing beds being taken up by Covid-19 patients.

She added: “Furthermore two of our long-term care wards are in quarantine due to additional cases. This means that people in acute care beds cannot be transferred to the long-term care wards even if they are ready.

“A further knock-on effect is that the acute care beds become unavailable for those members of our community who are needing admittance following surgery. That can cause surgeries to be postponed.“

Opposition MPs questioned the necessity of the extension.

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Health, acknowledged that hospital numbers were “worrying”, but pointed out that other countries were “loosening up” regulations.

Claiming that Bermuda was now “one of the most restrictive places in the world”, he said: “Here we go again. The Government continues to preach the message, but clearly at some time, you have to wean that child off the diaper.

“At some time we have to be weaned off these restrictions because enough is enough.”

Mr Burt denied that claim, stating that the majority of “substantive restrictions” had been lifted in February.

He justified the extension, claiming that the island was in the grip of a fresh outbreak, and that there still needed to be a level of protection for the most vulnerable

Mr Burt said: “I’m going to try to be as polite as possible, but I see what’s at play here. It’s a political strategy in saying that the Government is being overbearing.

“I worry for the hospital and we’re not going back, but people need to understand that this virus can kill you. And this new strain that we have is infectious and far more dangerous than the earlier Omicron strains and that’s why we’re seeing the level of hospital admissions.

“I asked the Minister of Health earlier, ‘How many people are in the hospital?’ Do you want me to tell you? 56.

“And here we have an Opposition who wants to vote down a public health emergency so that there’s no mask-wearing inside the hospital.

“We are moving on, but we must maintain a level of protection for our most vulnerable.”

On Wednesday, in its weekly Covid-19 bulletin, the Department of Health said that 28 patients were in hospital with the virus — an increase of 23 on the previous week, when just five people had been admitted to KEMH.

The Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman added last night: “Numbers of people with Covid-19 are increasing at BHB across our service lines, and we are seeing increasing numbers of people attending the emergency department due to Covid-19.

“We remain at disaster level two right now, but certainly pressure on capacity in the acute care wards is increasing.”