Bermuda facing second wave of COVID-19

Tourists line up at a testing centre in Bermuda's capital Hamilton. - Photo courtesy of the Royal Gazette

Bermuda is experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus, with indoor bars and schools forced to shut their doors amid a fresh outbreak of the virus.

The island had been highlighted, locally and internationally, for successfully reopening its borders in July.

But a recent surge in cases has put the British Overseas Territory in a precarious position.

There were 24 new cases announced on the island Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 98.

The island’s Premier David Burt has described the results as “alarming”, according to reports in the Royal Gazette newspaper.

Bermuda Premier David Burt

He warned, “We are in the midst of a large outbreak of the coronavirus here on our shores. The scale and scope of the number of positive cases is alarming and proves that we are not exempt from the realities of this global pandemic.”

Burt acknowledged the island could have introduced tougher antivirus measures earlier, according to the Gazette report, stating, “We got complacent and we believed our own hype.”

Bermuda, which has a population of 64,000 and a similar economy to the Cayman Islands, does not require visitors to quarantine, relying instead on a system of extensive testing and contact tracing, before and during the trip, and a system of contact tracing.

Even amid the latest outbreak, there are no new restrictions on incoming flights or movement of visitors arriving in Bermuda, other than a new requirement to wear a yellow ‘traveller wristband’ for 14 days.

Announcing that measure earlier this week, Health Minister Kim Wilson emphasised that the island was still very much open to tourism.

“I want to remind everyone that Bermuda’s borders are open and we continue to welcome visitors and our returning residents home,” she said.

Cayman watching and learning

Michael Tibbetts, vice-president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and the owner of Clearly Cayman which has dive resorts on all three islands, has advocated for Cayman’s leaders to look closely at other reopening plans in the region and allow some return of tourism to the island.

He said the setback in Bermuda should not detract from that goal. He believes Cayman can look at the failures as well as the successes of other islands to come up with its own protocol involving a combination of testing, shorter quarantine periods and contact tracing.

Michael Tibbetts

He said there were flaws in Bermuda’s system – including a policy of allowing returning residents who had a pre-arrival COVID-19 test – to travel freely around the island and return to work immediately.

“For the outbreaks that have occurred, we should learn from the protocol’s weaknesses and not simply throw up our hands and give up,” he said.

He highlighted St Kitts, British Virgin Islands and Barbados among countries that were still successfully controlling the virus – through a mix of testing, tracing and restrictions on movement – while allowing some resumption of tourism.

Tibbetts said he hoped Cayman would continue to look into plans for a safe reopening and not solely rely on a vaccine to reopen the borders. He said while the recent vaccine approval is promising, there are still many unanswered questions, including the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for children, pregnant women and previously infected individuals.

He said outbreaks in countries that had reopened their borders thus far had been largely attributed to returning residents.

I am not aware of any situations in which stayover visitors seeded COVID-19 outbreaks in countries requiring serial PCR testing (pre-arrival, on arrival and every four days after arrival) and resort/villa isolation or ‘tourism corridor’ restrictions to limit visitors movements across the islands,” he said.

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