Preparation, not panic

IN RESPONSE to the new coronavirus, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh has ordered screening of all international passengers from key ports of disembarkation. We call on the travelling public – including the thousands of people from the TT diaspora who will be returning for Carnival – to fully co-operate. At the same time, we urge the State to expedite the procurement of any equipment that can be useful in bolstering screening capacity at ports.

There is a lot that we do not know about this virus, aside from the fact that its epicentre appears to be Wuhan, China, and that it kills. At least 17 people have died and 600 people have been sickened. An emergency meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday mused the possibility of declaring a global health emergency, while, locally, Deyalsingh conducted an inspection of facilities at Piarco International Airport.

We might well be living the script of a Hollywood disaster movie like Outbreak, Contagion, or Quarantine. The Great Plague of 14th century Europe, so often represented in film and literature, remains alive and well in the public’s imagination. But what people must do now is prepare, not panic.

We should learn from the lessons of Ebola, H1N1, Zika, and SARS, the latter of which, eerily, also broke out in China in 2002 before killing 800 people in dozens of countries. In almost all of these instances, public education was key to bolstering awareness of symptoms. That’s crucial in dealing with any pandemic.

As a cruise ship with about 5,000 tourists docked in the capital, Tourism Minister Randal Mitchell and Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat provided welcomed reassurances that systems are already in place to monitor the situation.

Such reassurances go some way towards reducing panic. However, the State must also expedite its efforts to obtain more hand-held thermal scanners for use at all of our ports, not just Piarco, in order to ensure consistent screening and to prevent logjams. It’s important for the system of health surveillance to not be overburdened by the demands now imposed by the need to screen thousands of arrivals.

Thus far the virus has been found in Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. At least one death was yesterday reported outside of the epicentre in another Chinese province entirely, though officials were yet to clarify the victim’s possible links to Wuhan. This disclosure, coupled with the expected high travel traffic over the Chinese New Year tomorrow, could mean further hazards, even with select travel bans in place.

Members of the public must therefore remain vigilant as this situation develops. That entails keeping updated and focusing on reliable sources of information. The State also has to keep its own systems under review, beyond just consideration of the ports of entry. We must prepare for the unknown.


"Preparation, not panic"

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