Emergency talks as COVID-19 hits region

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) –  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.

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