The Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) has suspended elective surgeries as it prepares for COVID-19.

The suspension will allow surgical and operating theatre staff to be “upskilled” with additional training in critical care management.

A BHB spokeswoman said emergency and urgent surgeries, including surgery for cancer, will continue.

Michael Richmond, Chief of Staff, said: “We do not take this step lightly and apologise to elective surgery patients who will no doubt feel frustration, anxiety and upset.

“We are, however, facing an unprecedented situation. As an island we do not have access to a bank of staff to just bring in to work, so we are looking to maximise the resources we have to care for the most critically ill who may come to us.

“We do not have confirmed COVID-19 cases yet in Bermuda, but we have to prepare in case they do come and in case the situation escalates quickly, as has happened elsewhere. We cannot wait to start the training.”

At this point in time he said it was not known when non-urgent surgeries will resume.

“We will constantly monitor the situation, however, and restart as soon as it is safe to do so.”

BHB also announced that it would limit visitation to help protect patients, staff and supplies at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute and group homes.

Only immediate family or carers will be allowed to visit general acute patients, long term care and residential units.

Patients in isolation will only be allowed one visitor per day.

Judy Richardson, Chief of Nursing, added: “We do not take this step lightly, as we recognise the power of family in visiting people when they are unwell, or vulnerable.

“But we also have to acknowledge that a COVID-19 infection can be much more serious and deadly for seniors and people with existing medical conditions — and these are the people we care for.”

Dr Richmond added: “We apologise to people who want to visit their loved ones, but hope they understand we must put our patients and staff first.

“Many people do not get seriously ill from COVID-19 or have no symptoms at all, so we anticipate someone could inadvertently visit their loved one and infect them.

“Additionally, we need to preserve personal protective equipment in the face of global shortages. We are preparing in case COVID-19 is an issue for many months, or longer.

“Our expectation is that we may have to close visiting at some point if COVID-19 spreads locally, but this balance gives patients and residents some access to the love and support of their families, while reducing the risks of exposure and preserving personal protective equipment.”

Members of the public were also urged to take preventive measures to protect the community from this deadly virus.

“We can slow down the spread by washing hands; not touching our faces; coughing and sneezing into tissues; wearing masks if we are sick; and avoiding groups, meetings, shaking hands and hugs.

“This will give us the opportunity to manage the demand on healthcare more effectively.

“If we do not act as individuals and a community, we may experience a sudden peak and the healthcare system could struggle.”