GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Wednesday January 29, 2020 – With more countries reporting cases since the new coronavirus outbreak began in China a few weeks ago, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states have begun to take steps to ensure the impact is minimized in the region. Surveillance teams have been established and other preventive measures have been put in place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was identified by Chinese authorities in Wuhan, Hubei Province. The virus has since spread to 15 other countries.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) said in a press release this week that it had activated its incident management team and was coordinating the regional health response to the outbreak in light of the increased number of confirmed cases of infections in China and internationally.
“CARPHA is monitoring the international situation as it evolves. We continue to work closely with Caribbean Member States (CMS), and Caribbean coordinating partners and mechanisms to respond to the threat and to prepare CMS to prevent further transmission from exported case if they were to happen in countries,” said CARPHA Executive Director Dr Joy St John.
She recommended that member states be proactive and vigilant. She added that they must reinforce surveillance measures at points of entry, communication strategies which emphasize good hand hygiene, and measures targeted at reducing the importation of this new virus to our shores.
And CARICOM member states have heeded her advice.
Barbados already had a number of protocols in place which had been developed out of its experience with other potential public health threats, such as Ebola and SARS, Health Minister Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic said. He added that the Ministry would do all in its power to remain on top of the current situation.
And Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George urged persons travelling from Barbados to the affected regions to protect themselves by practising frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections. Those who have recently travelled and returned home with symptoms have been advised to seek immediate medical attention.
Dr George added that arriving passengers from these regions will be screened by officers at the ports of entry. Those without symptoms will be required to leave their contact information so that they can be followed up within 14 days, while those with symptoms will be directed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for further management.
Belize has activated its National Surveillance Team and officials said the Ministry of Health will remain vigilant to the developments and update the public as new information becomes available. In the interim, the ministry is advising the population to continue practicing proper handwashing techniques – wash hands with soap and clean running water before and after eating, when using the bathroom and before preparing food.
“Proper respiratory hygiene such as proper handwashing practice and also proper cough and sneeze etiquette remains the hallmark in addressing all other respiratory infections,” Director of Health Services, Dr Marvin Manzanero, emphasized.
Over in Dominica, the Ministry of Health, Wellness and New Health Investment said it has been monitoring all alerts and other communications in relation to the new strain of coronavirus.
“We have been in close communication with our regional and international partners, and also engaged key national stakeholders in health (surveillance team) and other sectors in discussions on key elements of activation of National Response Plan,” it said.
The Ministry is also advising the public to exercise the usual precautionary measures for prevention of the flu virus, as it is still flu season. These include proper hand washing, use of protected personal equipment (PPE), and exercising proper respiratory etiquette.
The Ministry of Public Health in Guyana said it was preparing counter-measures to prevent the outbreak of the virus in the country.
According to Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) Dr Karen Gordon-Boyle, the country’s Port Health officials have been alerted and sensitized how to spot signs and symptoms of the virus.
She said that a screening tool – a questionnaire used to gather detailed information on the onset and natural course of illnesses of persons suspected of having coronavirus – had been developed. The DCMO also said that training programmes targeting key staff including Port Health officers, Immigration officers and Customs officers will be conducted by the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) in collaboration with PAHO/WHO.
Dr Gordon-Boyle has advised persons experiencing fever or flu-like symptoms to visit the country’s main hospital or the nearest regional hospital.
St Kitts and Nevis is stepping up surveillance at ports of entry.
“It must be noted that all incoming air travellers to the Federation must complete question number 17 of the ‘Welcome to St. Kitts and Nevis’ Immigration/Customs Form. This question requires a listing of all countries travellers may have visited in the past six (6) months. Incoming travellers from the Mainland China will be asked to provide travel history, history of exposure to virus, and contact information,” the Ministry of Health said.
It also encouraged residents to practise good personal hygiene good personal hygiene to prevent the common cold/flu such as: hand-washing; covering the nose and mouth with tissue or flexed elbow when coughing and sneezing; avoiding close contact to anyone with cold or flu symptoms; and remaining at home from school if one has a cold or flu.
Trinidad and Tobago has also activated emergency protocols to safeguard the populace from the virus. Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh visited the Piarco International Airport where he got a first-hand look at Thermal Screening Equipment that reads body temperature and will alert operators when someone with an above average or feverish temperature has been screened. Screening equipment is also in place at other major ports of entry.
The Bahamas is also monitoring the situation in China, particularly as it relates to students who are studying in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
“The students in Wuhan are safe, and they have been advised to comply with all safety and security advisories issued by the Government of China. The Ministry will continue to monitor the situation closely and update the public as needed,” according to an official statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meantime, Jamaica’s Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton held a press conference yesterday afternoon to advise on the virus. He said that the country was enhancing its surveillance and assessing those persons who have entered Jamaica from China. A travel advisory will also be issued asking persons who were planning to travel to Jamaica from China, to postpone those travel arrangements, he said.