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(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Carnival is in the air, and so too is the threat of a killer virus.
As the country prepares for the busiest time of the year, with thousands flying in for Carnival, every passenger from North America, the United Kingdom and Panama will be thermo-scanned and screened at Piarco International Airport for signs of the killer virus coronavirus, which has infected hundreds and caused six deaths in China.
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said yesterday Trinidad and Tobago should be very concerned, now that the deadly virus has reached the United States, as one man has been diagnosed in Seattle, Washington.
Speaking to the Express by phone, Deyalsingh said ten hand-held thermo scanners are in place- five at the airports, and another five at other entry points, including the ports of Port of Spain and Cedros.
He said the ministry’s permanent secretary was instructed to purchase more scanners.
As soon as passengers step off the plane or enter the country via the seaport, they will be scanned using the hand-held thermo scanners.
Deyalsingh explained that the coronavirus is infecting humans, and measures have been swiftly put in place to treat with any person with the disease entering T&T.
The minister said the information regarding the killer virus is rapidly changing because when he met with the Chief Medical Officer and the Pan American Health Organisation on Sunday, it was a “low threat” to T&T—but that changed by Monday.
“We activated our heightened surveillance response at the airport and from today (Tuesday) we started to follow it… If we get someone with a temperature above 37.2, which indicates a fever, they will be pulled aside and a travel history will be taken, particularly whether they have come from China or any other country reporting this virus,” he said.
Deyalsingh said if port health is satisfied that further investigation is needed, then the passenger will be quarantined at the Caura hospital and a detailed history taken.
He said special equipment and protective suits are already in place for the transportation of suspected passengers with the virus to the hospital.
“If we feel that person may have this new virus our infectious diseases protocols will kick in, where the person will be isolated, treated, blood samples taken for laboratory investigation, and we do what is called contact tracing—that is, look at all the people around you that you may have had contact with, find them, and call them in for further examination,” he said.
The minister said there is no vaccine for this fatal virus, so alert is high. “It is a new virus that is infecting humans now for the first time. The family of coronaviruses is normally found in animals. However, it can also jump on to humans, and when you have that type of jumping of viruses from one species to another, it is called a spillover effect or a zoonotic disease.
“Coronaviruses in humans can cause a range of illnesses, from the very mild common cold to the very serious deadly MERS and SARS. This novel virus is begin called a cousin to SARS. There is no vaccine for it because it is new,” he said.
Asked how concerned we should be, he responded: “We should be concerned because, like all viruses, they have the potential for rapid human-to-human transmission.
“If you had asked me a week ago—should we be concerned? The answer would be no. But a week later as the situations evolves, it is fluid, we are understanding more and more. I would say we have to be concerned.”
Deyalsingh said measures will be put in place to scan all passengers coming in from the places listed during the Carnival season. He noted not all flights come in at the same time, and resources will be beefed up to ensure stringent screenings.
In 2019, a total of 35,560 visitors were counted in the 19 days prior to carnival Monday.
According to a report in the Associated Press yesterday, the US resident who was diagnosed with the coronavirus had returned to the Seattle area in the middle of last week after travelling to Wuhan in central China, where the outbreak began.
The US resident had no symptoms when he arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma airport last week Wednesday, but he contacted doctors on Sunday when he started feeling ill, officials said.
It stated the man is in his 30s and was in good condition yesterday at a hospital in Everett, outside Seattle.
“He’s not considered a threat to medical staff or the public, health officials said,” stated the report.
It noted the US is the fifth country to report seeing the illness, following China, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Facts on the coronavirus (cbsnews.com)
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illnesses as minor as a cold, or as serious as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization. They often present with pneumonia-like symptoms.
The viruses are transmitted from animals to humans — the virus that causes SARS, for example, was transmitted to humans from a cat-like animal called a civet. But in some instances, as appears to be the case with this new strain of coronavirus, they can also be transmitted between humans.
The World Health Organization said there are multiple known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet been transmitted to humans.