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We lacked aggression in testing, Burt admits

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A “more aggressive” approach could have been taken to secure Covid-19 testing equipment, the Premier admitted last night.

David Burt said it was one of the lessons learnt from the response to a coronavirus outbreak at the Westmeath seniors' care home, where a staff member had Covid-19 diagnosed on April 10.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said yesterday that there were not enough swabs and viral transport media — used to preserve samples for analysis — to test all the home's residents at the time.

Mr Burt explained: “In a crisis, there are always decisions that have to be made, and in Bermuda we are in the less than opportune position of being a small, isolated country, that does not manufacture our own equipment and we are left to the mercy of international supply chains.”

Mr Burt said: “The lesson, I think, that is learnt is that we could have been more aggressive. I think what this has shown, in this particular instance, is, yes, we could have been more aggressive. Yes, given the fact that ... an order of 10,000 swabs was placed and the first set did arrive in the country on [April 15], we could have actually gotten to the rest home sooner.”

Mr Burt said: “We could have been more creative and we could have made sure that all of the resources that were at our disposal could have been deployed at a quicker point in time.

‘‘All of that being said, I am confident ... that we've turned that corner.”

Mr Burt added: “I think the other lesson that is learnt is to err on the side of caution.”

But he said that the island had handled the crisis to the best of its ability.

He added: “By and large, I think we've managed to do this phase of suppression well.”

Mr Burt said the hospital faced a limit of five Covid-19 admissions a day before it was “overrun”.

All residents and available staff at Westmeath, in Pembroke, were tested for the coronavirus on April 22 after a second staff member tested positive for Covid-19 on April 14, followed by a resident of the home on April 20.

The island's sixth death related to Covid-19 — a Westmeath resident — was announced by Mr Burt on Sunday.

Ms Wilson said yesterday: “On Saturday, I issued a statement regarding Westmeath Residential and Nursing Home and I hope it managed to address many of the questions and concerns the community had, regarding the timelines for testing at the care home.

“One point, which perhaps I didn't make clear, was that at the time of the first case, on April 10, we simply did not have enough testing swabs and VTM to be able to test all the residents and staff at Westmeath.

“Public health action took place immediately and the case was successfully isolated protecting other persons at the home — indeed, the subsequent cases found were unrelated to the first case.

“We had to choose between testing symptomatic individuals elsewhere and asymptomatic individuals at Westmeath.”

She added: “Going forward, I can say this — now that we have increased testing capacity, we are actively testing all staff and residents in all rest homes.

“I can confirm that we have tested four care homes so far, starting with the homes where there had been cases. All residents have been tested and staff continue to be tested. There have been no additional residents found positive.”

Ms Wilson explained that homes were prioritised for tests based on risk factors.

She said that there had been one Covid-19 case from 388 test results yesterday, which brought the total number of Covid-19 cases to 110.

There were 13 people being treated in hospital for the illness, four of them in intensive care.

There were 60 active cases, with 47 people under public health monitoring, and 44 people had recovered.

Ms Wilson added for the first time that preliminary information showed that 52 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus were black, 39 per cent white people and 9 per cent were unknown, which reflected the island's demographics.

Mr Burt said 380 tests were carried out at the island's new drive-through centre over the weekend.

He added that Bermuda could “start a very slow rolling back” of coronavirus restrictions next week, as the island's boosted test capacity helped to protect the health of the public.

The Cabinet will meet today to consider the next steps after the latest round of shelter-in-place restrictions ends on Saturday.

But Mr Burt warned: “We will not return to life as we knew it before Covid-19 for the foreseeable future.”

The reopening of the airport will also be discussed at today's Cabinet meeting.

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, said that about 2,500 people eligible for unemployment benefits, and who had not yet got payments, could expect them tomorrow in a package worth about $2.3 million in total.

Ms Foggo admitted many applicants were “frustrated” by benefit delays and being unable to get through on helplines.

A total of 11,001 applications for assistance had been received by yesterday morning.

Wayne Caines, the national security minister, said 105 businesses were now approved to operate under “very strict guidelines”.

To view the full statements from the Premier, health minister, labour minister and national security minister, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

Erring on side of caution: David Burt, the Premier, speaks during the the Covid-19 pandemic press conference yesterday (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Wayne Caines Minister of National Security gives an update at a press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Graphic by Christina White
Graphic by Christina White
<p>Readers’ Questions</p>

Question: “What was the unemployment figure prior to this situation and what is it now?” — Herbalist Man

Response: “No, I have not kept up with the change in those who are unemployed. Do understand that some of those persons who find themselves unemployed right now is because of being laid off, not because employment has been terminated, so to speak.” — Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport

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Published April 28, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 28, 2020 at 9:00 am)

We lacked aggression in testing, Burt admits

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