(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) – Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh was among government officials from across the region involved in emergency talks in Barbados yesterday on the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Even as that meeting, chaired by Caricom chairman Prime Minister Mia Mottley was in progress, health officials in the Dominican Republic and France’s overseas territories reported the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Caribbean.
Yesterday’s meeting was aimed at developing a common Caricom position regarding the virus as it relates to the tourism sector given differing positions on cruise ships and airlines operating in the Caribbean. In recent, days some Caricom countries have prevented cruise liners from docking at their ports after some passengers were reported to have been suffering from the virus.
The sources said it was felt there is need for a unified position on the matter, not only as it relates to the tourism sector, but other sectors of the economy.
The meeting was also attended by senior officials of US-based cruise liners as well as regional airlines. In addition, representatives from the Pan American Health Organization ( PAHO), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) were on attendance.
As those talks were taking place, health officials in the Dominican Republic and France reported the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Caribbean, while British cruise ship passengers who had been trapped at sea due to virus fears were finally set to return home.
Dominican Public Health Minister Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas said a 62-year-old Italian man had arrived in the country on February 22 without showing symptoms. He was being treated in isolation at a military hospital and “has not shown serious complications.”
France, meanwhile, reported a case on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the first in one of France’s overseas territories.
The announcements came shortly before the Braemar cruise ship, which had been denied entry to the Dominican Republic due to the virus fears, at last found a place to dock—the Dutch territory of St Maarten.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said two chartered airliners would carry passengers back to Britain. Other passengers, who had been scheduled to board the vessel on Friday in the Dominican Republic, were being flown to St Maarten to embark there.
Dominican officials had barred the ship due to reports that a few of those aboard had a flu-like illness, but the cruise line said none had symptoms consistent with the new virus.
It was one of at least three cruise ships turned away from Caribbean ports over the past week due to concerns over possible viral infections, though no passengers on any of the ships has been confirmed to have the disease.
The broader Latin America region has reported several other cases of the COVID-19 illness in recent days. Mexico has reported four cases, Brazil two and Ecuador one, all involving people who had travelled recently to Europe.
On Friday, CARPHA upgraded the risk of COVID-19 disease transmission from low, to “moderate to high” , although at that time there has been no confirmed case of the disease which has killed nearly 3,000 people in several countries mainly in China and South Korea.
CARPHA said transmission of the virus has been reported in territories with direct flights to Caribbean countries.
CARPHA Executive Director, Dr. Joy St. John is urging health authorities in member states to shift their mind set from preparedness to readiness and rapid response and continue to do all that is necessary to strengthen their capacity to respond to possible importation of cases.
She also encouraged member states to increase their capacity for surveillance and to adapt their national pandemic preparedness plans to this current situation with COVID-19, as a matter of urgency.