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January 2022: Holiday season ends with Covid-19 test chaos

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Travellers wait for Covid tests at L F Wade International Airport (Photograph supplied)

More than 20 months after it first hit Bermuda’s shores, Covid-19 continued to disrupt life on the island when an outbreak and US testing requirements culminated in “chaos“ for travellers.

A source said they saw between 50 and 100 people who needed a last-minute test at the airport on January 1.

It was understood the travellers had tested already but did not receive their results in time to fly.

Another source who contacted The Royal Gazette said that family members missed their flight owing to the delay.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said that a significant increase in Covid-19 cases – sparked by the spread of the Omicron variant – had caused longer wait times for test results.

She explained: “Test results are generally available within one day, but in the midst of this outbreak results will take longer due to the increase in positive cases.

“Coupled with that, US travellers must be tested relatively close to their travel date to meet the US Government’s requirement for pre-departure tests to be completed no more than a day before travel. This leaves little room for delay.”

The Bermuda Government introduced antigen testing at the airport and the ministry spokeswoman urged anyone who needed the screening to arrive at least four hours before departure time.

A source said Wayne Furbert, who was acting health minister at the time, attended the airport and helped to coordinate the emergency testing.

The ministry said in an update two days earlier that more than 13,700 Covid-19 tests were carried out in a week and there were 522 active cases.

A number of people who contacted the Gazette about the airport chaos insisted that a breakdown in the government e-mail system caused the turmoil.

On January 4, the health ministry reported 912 active infections.

The Ministry and Department of Education said then – less than 24 hours before classes were due to resume after the winter break – there would be a staggered reopening of schools.

Tinee Furbert, then the Acting Minister of Education, announced that a number of schools did not have “adequate teachers cleared for resuming in-class teaching” and there were also pupils who awaited clearance to return.

It meant that no middle or senior schools opened to students on the first teaching day of term while lessons at Dame Marjorie Bean Hope and Success academies were also postponed.

By January 6 there were 1,111 active coronavirus cases.

Carika Weldon, PhD (File photograph)

It emerged then that Carika Weldon, the scientist who returned to Bermuda from Britain to lead the Government’s testing programme almost two years earlier, would leave her post at the end of the month.

The former Oxford Genomics Centre researcher told the Gazette her advice had been ignored during the build-up to the ongoing outbreak.

Dr Weldon said she warned the Government against children returning that week, which required 5,400 tests for Covid-19 to be turned around in a matter of days while her lab was short-staffed.

The news came as Covid-19 test results continued to lag by at least two days because of a lack of manpower.

A health ministry spokeswoman said earlier that the MDL and Dr Weldon, who was also the Government’s scientific adviser, was “provided with the support to meet the current demands”.

But Dr Weldon said test delays had happened because her warnings had been ignored.

A fast antigen test centre opened at the Washington Mall in Hamilton to make sure travellers who required it were tested inside 24 hours of departure.

The surge of Covid-19 cases hit the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, where 35 firefighters – more than half of the total crew – were unable to work because they tested positive for the virus or were a close contact.

Shortages forced closures of a day each at the Clearwater and Port Royal stations.

By January 13, almost 150 Bermuda Hospitals Board employees were off work owing to the virus, which led to a reduction in hours at the Lamb Foggo Urgent Care Centre and put pressure on the emergency department at the King Edwards VII Memorial Hospital.

At the same time, the Bermuda Police Service was also impacted, with 48 of its 400-strong force absent because of Covid-19.

An update from the Government on January 13 said that 71.3 per cent of the population had by then received two doses of a vaccine against the virus.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said changes to Covid-19 testing and quarantine rules would help the island return to “some semblance of normalcy”.

By January 17, there was a record high number of active cases at 1,953.

Curtis Richardson Senator in Court (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Senator resigned over rent row

Curtis Richardson announced he would resign his seat in the Senate in the face of mounting criticism after it was revealed he owed a senior $19,000 in unpaid rent.

He would step down at the end of the month, also leaving the post of junior national security minister.

Mr Richardson’s resignation came after his former landlady, Margaret Harvey, broke down in tears when she gave evidence in the Supreme Court about the physical toll taken on her over a long legal battle to get the cash owed.

Mr Richardson said he resigned because the controversy had become a distraction from the work of the Government – and promised to come to an arrangement with Ms Harvey.

He added: “I continue to apologise to those to whom I am in arrears for the strain that this debt has placed on their business and their personal finances.

“I will continue to be as transparent as possible and communicate as much as I can to ensure that these debts, accumulated due to my inability to work, will all be paid off in full.

“I will also continue to pay what I can with all that I am able to earn when I am able to make payments.”

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