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March: Covid-19 an existential threat

David Burt, the Premier, speaks at a press conference announcing the first two cases of the coronavirus, as Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer at the time, left, Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and Wayne Caines, the national security minister, look on. In front is Wendy Ingham, a sign-language interpreter (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Health teams, the Government and businesses braced themselves for the inevitable impact of Covid-19, which had taken more than 3,000 lives worldwide by March.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, announced that customs duty would be waived on hand sanitiser, protective equipment and other supplies.

David Burt, the Premier, said on March 6: “We recognise this could be an existential threat to our tourism industry and a threat to our financial services industry.

“That is the reason why we have mobilised a full and complete government response.”

The first residents were tested for the potentially fatal strain of the coronavirus, which causes the infectious disease Covid-19.

Samples were initially sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency, in Trinidad, with a turnaround time of four to five days for results.

On March 11, the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic.

Within the next two days, travel bans and restrictions were introduced for Bermuda.

Mr Burt urged the public to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people — later reduced further by law — as the phrase “social distancing” made its way into the island’s lexicon.

Curtis Dickinson, the finance minister, announced plans to raise the island’s debt ceiling as he forecast the need to help people who would be affected by unemployment as well as other spending related to Covid-19.

The first two cases of the coronavirus — brought to the island from Britain and the United States — were confirmed on March 18.

Mr Burt announced an action plan within hours that included the closure of the airport at midnight on March 20, the immediate closure of public schools and at-home working for government employees.

By the end of that week, some of the island’s best-known hotels had closed their doors, with most others to follow suit.

Health measures, including a maximum number of customers, were introduced at grocery stores. They would later escalate to the alphabetised shopping days that were in place for about three months.

The introduction of coronavirus test processing on the island by the end of the third week in March was a welcome step in management of the bug.

Additional ventilators were making their way to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital as the Bermuda Hospitals Board worked to free up beds in advance of any potential influx of Covid-19 patients.

An overnight curfew of 8pm to 6am started on March 29 and by the month’s end the total number of coronavirus cases was 32.

A shelter-in-place period followed before the island entered its four-phase reopening schedule.

It was July 2 when commercial flights returned to the airport.

Public schools welcomed pupils back to classrooms — amid strict health protocols — on September 17.

However, remote learning was reintroduced before the first term finished in December after a spike in cases led to quarantines and the return of tighter restrictions.

Mr Dickinson said in November that the Government had spent almost $80 million to control the impact of the coronavirus — a figure predicted to rise to $125 million by the end of the financial year.

He expected government revenues to be slashed by more than $200 million after the pandemic hammered the economy.

Mr Dickinson told the House of Assembly that $58 million was by then paid out in emergency unemployment benefits.

Further relief was offered to workers affected by coronavirus-related closures later in the year.

By the end of December, ten Bermuda residents and one Bermudian living overseas had died from illnesses related to Covid-19.

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Published December 31, 2020 at 7:54 am (Updated December 30, 2020 at 10:04 pm)

March: Covid-19 an existential threat

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