The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has activated its incident management team and is coordinating the Regional Health response to the 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), outbreak in light of the increased number of confirmed cases of infections in China and internationally.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), as of 30 January 2020 there are 8,124 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases of the virus in China. Of the confirmed cases 1,370 are severe and 171 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital. There are now 83 cases in 18 other countries. Of these, only 7 did not have any history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China.
To date, there have not been any reported cases of nCoV in the Caribbean region. The immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general public in the Caribbean remains low, states CARPHA in a press release.
“CARPHA is monitoring the international situation as it evolves. We continue to work closely with Caribbean Member States (CMS), and Caribbean coordinating partners and mechanisms to respond to the threat and to prepare CMS to prevent further transmission from exported cases if they were to happen in countries,” states Dr. Joy St John, CARPHA Executive Director.
There is still much more to learn about how the 2019-nCoV virus spreads, severity of associated illness, and other features of the virus. The virus is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
British Airways has suspended service to China and United Airlines and Delta Airlines are to reduce service to and from China.
Currently, there are no restrictions on international travel and no special precautions travelers need to take when travelling to the Caribbean since there have not been any reported cases of 2019-nCoV in the Caribbean.
“CARPHA is recommending that Member States be proactive and vigilant. They must reinforce surveillance measures at points of entry, communication strategies which emphasize good hand hygiene, and measures targeted at reducing the importation of this new virus to our shores,” stated Dr. St John.
Hotels and Resorts in the region which have not signed on to the Caribbean Tourism Health Information System (THIS) are encouraged to do so. Established by CARPHA with Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) support several years ago, to date over 200 hotels in the region have signed on to the Tourism Health Information System, a confidential web-based monitoring and support system for reporting illnesses by travelers and employees aimed at capturing and isolating infectious illnesses to stop/reduce their spread and public health and reputational threats. For registration information visit http://this.carpha.org.
Travelers are advised to: Stay informed about the 2019-nCoV situation in any countries to which they are travelling, and practice general infection control measures, such as frequent hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and practice respiratory hygiene by sneezing into the elbow.
CARPHA states they remain committed to supporting its Member States in adapting existing influenza preparedness plans for 2019-nCoV, refreshing training of health care workers in universal precautions and the use of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and implementing measures to protect the most vulnerable in our populations from developing the disease.