Aug 18, 2020 - World

CDC lifts travel warning as Bermuda ramps up testing to suppress coronavirus

 A view of Coral Beach, Bermuda

A view of Coral Beach, Bermuda. Photo: Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The CDC has lifted its coronavirus warning against nonessential travel to Bermuda, as the island ramps up a scheme to attract foreign workers on year-long residencies and marks 57 days with no detected community spread.

Driving the news: Over half of the British Overseas Territory's population has been tested for COVID-19 since on-island capabilities were set up on March 17. Premier David Burt told Axios the strict testing has left him "confident that we are going to be able to catch any clusters before they spread."

"Our weapon is testing, and we have the objective of being one of the most tested countries in the world and we are certainly making that a reality."
— David Burt
  • Burt said in an interview with Axios Monday he was "upset" with the previous CDC advisory, but was pleased with the change to "practice enhanced precautions," after his government lobbied the U.S.
  • "We never made it to community transmission," he said, noting the World Health Organization classifies Bermuda as having "sporadic cases."
  • The CDC told Axios Tuesday it amended its guidance because Bermuda met its criteria that new cases and incidence rates per 100,000 people "remain below set thresholds and number of new cases is either stable or declining," taking into consideration "adequate health care capacity and public health infrastructure to meet COVID-19 needs."

By the numbers: Bermuda has a population of over 62,000. More than 34,000 tests have been conducted as of Tuesday, and a total of 166 people have tested positive for the virus on the island, which has 10 active cases. Nine people have died from COVID-19.

What they did: Burt said the goal was to "suppress the virus and make sure that we mitigate it as much as possible" with stringent testing.

  • Tourists must undergo tests before boarding planes; there are testing facilities at airports, drive-throughs, pop-up centers and "roaming" testers visiting "high-risk" places like barbers, beauticians and grocery stores.
  • Physical distancing measures were implemented, hand-sanitizing stations installed and face masks are required in indoor facilities or outdoors where a person cannot remain 6 feet away from others. Visitor records are kept for contact tracing.
  • In April, Bermuda implemented a shelter-in-place order that saw retailers and other businesses close.

Of note: While the international business sector remains strong, Burt said the nation had to introduce a special unemployment benefit after the local economy took a hit.

  • "At the peak of the shelter in place, there were about 10,000 persons that were collecting on this unemployment benefit," Burt said, noting that usually some 34,000 locals are employed on the island.
  • Bermuda doesn't have its second-quarter GDP figures yet, but Burt said a 7.5%–12.5% contraction on an annual basis has been projected.

The state of play: The government had received 183 applications by Monday for its "Work from Bermuda Certificate," launched this month. It costs $263 to apply and enables workers and students to reside on the island for a year. It's hoped the program will boost the economy as it recovers from the pandemic.

  • "Now that we have opened up our borders, we have made sure that we have the most aggressive testing regime on the entire planet, where persons who are visitors to our shores require a pretest, are tested on arrival, tested on day four, day eight and day 14," Burt said.
  • "Or if there are persons who are returning residents without a pretest, they are tested on arrival, plus quarantined until their second negative test, and then they are tested on day eight and then day 14."

What to watch: Bermuda's government plans to scale testing further.

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