Covid-19: Burt warns against large crowds

  • David Burt confirms that no cases have been reported of the Covid-19 virus on the island at yesterday’s press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided in an attempt to combat the spread of a potential killer strain of coronavirus, the Premier said last night.

David Burt said church leaders would be contacted on Monday with advice for the safety of their congregations as the island braces itself for the possible arrival of Covid-19.

However, he advised churchgoers to avoid contact by “social distancing”.

He added that government public events would be cancelled for the next four weeks and that a decision would be made in the next few days on government offices and schools.

Mr Burt said it was possible the Easter break could be moved “a few weeks forward”.

The announcement came after Kim Wilson, the health minister, imposed a travel ban on China, Iran, Italy and parts of South Korea on Thursday night under the Quarantine Act.

The restrictions apply to anyone who had been in a listed country in the previous 14 days or since the start of the order and who were visitors to the island, not residents.

Visitors from France, Germany and Spain will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine and travellers from the United States and Britain will be subject to “active self-monitoring” for 14 days.

Mr Burt said that test kits for Covid-19 had been ordered but there would be no wide-scale testing on the island for “a few weeks” because of a global shortage of the equipment.

The Government will use a private aircraft to collect kits as they become available and all tests will be covered under government insurance.

Trinidad is the Caribbean regional centre for tests.

Mr Burt said the US could not supply tests or kits due to pressure on the country’s health system from the virus.

Extra equipment, including ventilators, has been ordered for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Mr Burt advised elderly and vulnerable people to stay at home where possible.

The island remained free of confirmed cases of the virus yesterday and 45 people were self-monitoring.

Twelve people have been tested for Covid-19 — eight have been given the all-clear and four await their results.

The news came as a string of events were shelved, including the Carifta Games next month, which has been postponed.

Ms Wilson earlier said that the travel exclusions were based on “sustained community spread of Covid-19”.

Yesterday, the global death toll from Covid-19 passed the 5,000 mark.

Cruise arrivals also took a hit as Norwegian Cruise Line started a voluntary suspension of all voyages between March 13 and April 11 for its three cruise brands.

Mr Burt told the House of Assembly that Neptune Group, which runs Bermuda Container Lines, had confirmed weekly supply runs to Bermuda from New York would be maintained.

He added that the volume of imports was up year-on-year, which suggested that “importers appear to be stocking and restocking certain items”.

Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, said the One Bermuda Alliance knew “for a fact” that travellers from banned countries had come through Bermuda’s airport after they caught flights in London.

Mr Cannonier also told the House some customs officers were “not happy with some of the preventive measures at the airport”.

He added there had been “some timidity on asking questions” of travellers.

Mr Burt said no passengers were coming through unchecked and that travellers had to answer a questionnaire

coming into the island.

No passengers were allowed off a private jet that stopped at LF Wade International Airport on Thursday night en route from Zurich to Massachusetts and whose crew had a travel itinerary that included Italy.

Glenn Jones, the interim chief executive of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said: “Coronavirus is damaging the tourism landscape globally and exerting significant impact on both our local industry stakeholders and our airline and cruise partners overseas.

“Our team is constantly measuring the scope of what’s happening in the short term and evaluating what it means for our destination.

“At the same time, we’re strategising for a recovery. When the time for normalcy arrives, we want to be ready and we’ll be preparing our stakeholders for that moment as well.”

The Government also issued a warning against price gouging — selling goods at an unfairly high price — during “times of national emergencies”.

Those found guilty can be jailed for up to six months or fined $10,000.

The pandemic has also had a knock-on effect on public events.

The Bermuda Festival called off its final weekend of shows, Saltus Grammar School has cancelled school trips, and schools issued advisories to parents on stepping up hygiene.

Saltus also announced preparations for remote learning in the event of a shutdown of the school and the Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation said that children or staff who had a high temperature should stay at home.

Bermuda High School for Girls sent an e-mail to parents designed to quash rumours that staff members had been screened for Covid-19.

Linda Parker, the head of school, said it was “categorically untrue”.

She added that the school had two pupils off sick with influenza.

The City of Hamilton said that normal services would continue and that the cleaning of fixtures such as pedestrian crossing buttons and car park pay stations had been increased.