Coronavirus caution

Coronavirus caution

Gov't making every effort to prevent disease entering Jamaica, but...

Senior staff reporter

Friday, February 28, 2020

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Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the authorities are making every effort to prevent importation of the coronavirus (COVID-19), but at the same time it must be understood that the chances of having a case of the virus here are real.

He was responding to questions yesterday about whether Jamaica would be willing to impose travel restrictions on the United States, given that the Americans have just reported their first inter-country case of the deadly COVID-19.

The ministry has imposed travel restrictions on four more countries on the basis of increasing cases of the virus in these territories. They are Singapore, Iran, South Korea, and Italy, which have 1,769 confirmed cases combined, and 38 deaths (excluding Singapore).

“The key thing to observe is the rate of spread, and the country-to-country spread indicative of a virus that will eventually morph into a pandemic, which means that it will touch on all hemispheres of the world, and ultimately affect most countries of the world, and that could include Jamaica,” Dr Tufton told journalists at a news conference at his ministry.

“It's nothing that we want, but it's something we have to plan for, just in case. What we are trying to do is to delay as much as possible to prevent as much we can,” he said, adding that any action which can prevent, in the first instance, and delay the virus entering the island, must be taken.

He noted that delaying has advantages of its own, as it provides an opportunity for a vaccine to be developed for example, as well as for a better understanding of the virus and also the appropriate levels of responses which may be required to effectively deal with it.

“So, maybe if it becomes such a major issue in our major trading partner — the US — or otherwise, over time we would be in a better position to manage, based on the new discoveries that take place almost on a daily basis about the virus and how to treat with it. But, as of now, we have to work with the info we have, and we also have to reconcile that against the capacity of our local environment to deal with it,” he stated.

He noted that the committee which is responsible for developing a national plan of action to give clarity to the population will convene next week.
“We will await a discussion with that committee in the next number of days to conclude on the extent of readiness, because some of those decisions that have to be taken involve critical roles for other agencies and ministries of government and the private sector,” he said.

At the same time, national epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr said the experts are constantly re-evaluating the global situation as cases increase, using the 2009 experience with H1N1 as a marker.

“We have made a projection for if, in fact, this virus does come into the island, what are the number of cases that we are expecting. We are using this to gauge our preparedness and what our gap would be, and at this time we are moving to bridge that gap in terms of procuring the supplies that we need and preparation of our staff to manage,” she said.

According to Dr Webster-Kerr, there has been a decrease in number of people coming through the island's ports from countries of interest. She attributes this to the restrictions in place and the fact that jurisdictions remain on high alert.

So airlines, etc, she said, are “not putting themselves at risk of having to return persons”.

As of yesterday morning, five people have been quarantined in Government facilities, while five are in home quarantine, and two are in isolation, awaiting test results. They are from a batch of 141 people who arrived in Jamaica as at February 26, who had been in China for 14 days prior to arrival here.

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