(GUYANA CHRONICLE) – THERE has been no new suspected case of the 2019 Coronavirus (COVID-19) since Guyana recorded its first case of the virus on Wednesday, said Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO), Dr. Karen Boyle.
A Guyanese woman with travel history to the United States had died at the Georgetown Public Hospital, on Wednesday, from the dreaded coronavirus. The 52-year-old Guyanese woman lived at Good Hope on the East Coast of Demerara and reportedly only recently returned from New York with family members.
President David Granger, in a statement on Wednesday, confirmed that the case of the 52-year-old woman was the first “imported case” of the COVID-19 in Georgetown. President Granger said the woman arrived in the country on March 5, 2020 and was presented to the public health system on March 10. At that time, she was found to have uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension, but subsequently died at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) at 08:00hrs on March 11.
Health authorities had said the woman also had flu-like symptoms and travelled from a “high risk” country, so that prompted them to conduct tests for the COVID-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), on Wednesday.
A clinical sample was, as such, collected and sent at 10:00hrs on March 11, 2020 to the National Reference Laboratory where laboratory tests confirmed the diagnosis at approximately 17:00hrs.
Dr. Boyle has since confirmed that persons, who were in close contact with the victim, have been quarantined and are being monitored by medical professionals. She was unable to say how many persons have been quarantined, but noted that the health authorities were in the process of “counting.”
Those persons will, however, be quarantined for the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommended 14-day period. The DCMO confirmed that no one else has shown any signs or symptoms of the virus.
The Dr. Balwant Singh’s Hospital (DBSH) has also quarantined doctors, nurses and attendants who were in contact with the victim.
Although the victim died at GPHC, the Dr. Balwant Singh’s Hospital (DBSH) had found that the patient made a brief stop at their facility before going on to GPHC.
According to information from DBSH, the 52-year-old patient was taken into the hospital by attendants and was being examined by a doctor in the triage area. The doctor, after asking background questions and observing the symptoms being similar to those of persons affected by COVID-19, immediately advised that the patient be taken to GPHC as DBSH does not have test kits for COVID-19 and, therefore, it was not possible to confirm the diagnosis
As a result of the confirmed diagnosed, DBSH has identified all persons who may have been in contact with the patient during the brief stop and ensured that they are in quarantine and not on duty at the hospital.
The Dr. Balwant Singh’s Hospital is complying fully with the guidance being provided by the Ministry of Public Health and is advising all of its patients to stay at home if they have the symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and to call the hotlines 227-4986 or 624-3067.
Workers of Caribbean Airlines, who were on the flight with the infected person, have been placed on self-quarantine for 14 days.
Caribbean Airlines, in a press statement, had said the woman travelled on BW 521 from John F. Kennedy, International Airport, New York to Piarco International Airport, Trinidad, and in transit (on the same day) to BW 526 from Piarco International to Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
“Caribbean Airlines assures all stakeholders that the safety, security and good health of its customers and employees are its highest priority and when the information on the passenger was received, immediate action was taken,” said the company.
In accordance with established protocols, the public health authorities have advised that as a precaution, the 13 crew members associated with the flights, be placed on self-quarantine.
The airline confirmed that this was done, and the employees will be assessed and monitored by the public health authorities in keeping with the directives from the Trinidadian Ministry of Health. The public health authorities are also contacting all persons who may possibly have been affected.
The company’s aircraft are cleaned daily at all ports in keeping with industry standards. Further, in this instance, additional sanitisation processes were used as outlined by the regulatory authorities.
The airline remains in close contact with the public health authorities and its operations team has activated contingencies for any impact on its flights.
Caribbean Airlines assures all stakeholders that it continues to actively monitor and respond to the evolving COVID-19 issue to ensure the safety and good health of its customers and employees.
While both regional and local stakeholders continue to do their part, the local Ministry of Public Health has also taken steps to ensure that “imported cases” are prevented.
Speaking about this, Dr. Boyle said: “We have heightened alert at the airport and we are bringing in more staff to help with the screening of persons who are travelling from high-risk countries.”
According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to many other countries, including some in the Americas. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, coughs, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
“Screening remains in place for those persons arriving from high-risk countries. Seven countries – Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, French Guiana, Panama, St. Vincent and the United States of America – have been added to the list of eight (People’s Republic of China, Italy, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Iran) that was previously made public,” said President Granger in a statement on Wednesday.
The President also advised against public gatherings and non-essential travel, and encouraged agencies to sensitise key personnel at all air and seaports so that they could be alert.
In the event of a suspected case reaching the shores of Guyana, the Ministry of Public Health has designated three quarantine facilities and will be identifying more, said President Granger. These facilities are expected to be efficient because Guyana already has the capacity to test for COVID-19, thanks to training provided by the Pan American Health Organisation.
Despite the preparatory work, government has started to assess the readiness of health facilities to meet the anticipated increase in demand of services and will continue to fill existing gaps by providing additional supplies and equipment through the public health ministry. As it is now, President Granger said the public health ministry has enough personal protective equipment in the country for health facilities and it also has adequate stores of respiratory medicine for the next three months.
“These efforts are supported by a communications campaign to keep the population updated on the virus and its impacts and oversight provided by the Health Emergency Operations Centre. The National Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) will be activated to provide sector-wide support,” he said.
As a safeguard, the Ministry of Public Health has urged the public to adhere to infection prevention and control measures such as maintaining a distance of at least one metre from persons who are coughing or sneezing; performing hand hygiene frequently by washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or using a hand sanitiser; covering mouths and noses with a tissue when coughing; and avoid touching your face.
In encouraging the public to practise these measures and stay calm, President Granger said: “I use this opportunity to appeal to the public to remain calm and to implement all the advisories relating to personal hygiene, social distancing and overall infection prevention and control. The Government of Guyana will continue to keep the public informed as we manage this public health challenge.”