HEALTH Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said 24,000 air passengers have been screened for the Wuhan coronavirus, which he said has not reached TT, contrary to reports by some media houses. His statement to the House of Representatives on Friday came after Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh tried but failed to raise the viral outbreak as a definite matter of urgent public importance.
Deyalsingh said the Government was very mindful of people’s concerns about the health threat posed if the virus enters TT.
“These concerns are legitimate, since this virus is considered highly virulent, in that it is fast-spreading, infectious and aggressive.”
He noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
“As of yesterday (Thursday) the WHO reported 9,776 confirmed cases worldwide, of which 9,658 were in China with the remaining 118 spread over 20 countries worldwide.”
Deyalsingh said the Government knows the risk factors to TT, is in control of the situation, and has put measures and resources in place to manage this risk.
“Our immediate focus is to interrupt the transmission of the virus to this country.
“It must be emphasised, and the assurance is given to this honourable House, that contrary to media reports, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country.”
Deyalsingh promised to keep the population updated.
Saying the coronavirus is from a large family of viruses, including those causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), he said TT has experience in treating with SARS in 2004-2006.
Deyalsingh said worldwide, the spread of the coronavirus was being fought by closing borders with China, restricting flights to and from there, and thermally screening passengers at ports of entry. China itself has banned travel from its affected cities.
Deyalsingh said the Government has been proactive about stopping the virus getting into TT, such as by thermal screening of passengers from the US, Canada, Panama and the United Kingdom at the major ports of entry.
“As at January 31, some 292 flights were screened and 24,229 passengers and crew were screened at both airports, here and in Tobago.”
Deyalsingh said no one was found to be feverish.
He said Cabinet on Thursday approved travel restrictions for peoplecoming from China for a 14-day period, who may be subject to quarantine.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) will have the capacity to begin testing for the virus by Monday, he said.
The risk of travellers bringing the virus into the Caricom area can also be curbed by the Joint Regional Communications Centre in Barbados, which screens 40 million passengers annually travelling in the region.
He added that the Government has proclaimed the virus a dangerous infectious disease under the Public Health Ordinance, to trigger special provisions to curtail infectious diseases such as notification, special inspections and offences. All this was in line with the WHO standards to protect the nation's health against all risks and dangers of emerging diseases.
“We are in a state of readiness in the event that we have to treat with the virus in terms of isolation centres, quarantine facilities, health personnel, personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and other related resources to treat with the virus.”
Promising constant updates from his ministry’s technocrats, Deyalsingh said, “The population is urged to take as valid information only what emanates from the Ministry of Health concerning the novel coronavirus.”
Asked by Gopeesingh if TT would set up a task force on the issue, Deyalsingh said a note is already before a Cabinet committee to do so and he is in constant contact with the Ministry of National Security.
The BBC reported on Friday the coronavirus has killed 213 people, all in China, where 10,000 people are infected, with 100 cases reported in 22 other countries.