Caribbean Public Health Agency Says its Ready to Respond to a Coronavirus Outbreak in the Region

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Tuesday February 11, 2020 – The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has assured that in the event of an outbreak of the new coronavirus – 2019-nCoV – in the region, its reference medical microbiology laboratory (CMML) is ready and fully equipped to test samples of suspected cases of the virus.     

There are no direct commercial flights to the Caribbean from China, and travellers to the region are screened multiple times prior to their arrival. However, the global situation is changing rapidly and CARPHA is therefore monitoring to determine if sustained transmission of the disease occurs outside of China. 

“The Agency is equipped to investigate and manage communicable diseases.  In the event of the suspicion of an outbreak in the Region, Member States have specific protocols to follow in their investigation process which includes sending the samples to CARPHA.  We are prepared to receive and test samples of suspected cases of the 2019-nCoV with immediate effect,” said Dr Joy St John, CARPHA Executive Director.

The reference laboratory is accredited by the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC) to the international standard for medical laboratories, ISO 15189:2012. Additionally, all laboratory technicians are certified to handle and transport infectious samples in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidance on Regulations for the Transport of Infectious Substances which was developed with the International Air Transport Association (IATA).  

Head of the CMML, Dr Gabriel Gonzalez-Escobar said “all systems are in place”.

“CARPHA will only receive and test samples from the national referral medical laboratories in Member States.  Results for all samples tested at the CMML will be sent electronically to the national referral medical laboratories, who will then disseminate to the health care provider,” he explained.

He further stated that test results for the 2019-nCoV should be provided within 48 hours, but turnaround time is subject to receipt of a sample in a timely manner.      

Good hygiene practices are important for the prevention of the spread of the novel Coronavirus. While the risk of 2019-nCoV to the region is currently low, the Trinidad-based CARPHA has urged residents and visitors to practise basic protective measures against the new coronavirus. It recommends that persons maintain basic hand and respiratory hygiene, and avoid close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.  

In addition: frequently clean hands using soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty; when coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue and throw tissue away immediately and wash hands; avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough; and if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early, and share previous travel history with your health care provider.

There are now more than 42,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in China as well as 319 cases in 24 other countries. The death toll has also surpassed 1,000.

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