Thermal screening of passengers on international flights to Tobago has begun as a safeguard to the threat of the coronavirus, the Tobago House of Assembly's (THA's) Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the division said port health workers began using infrared thermometers on Tuesday to scan all passengers for fever.
"Anyone with a fever will be considered a person of interest and will be interviewed and examined by public health officials from the O-CMOH (Office of the County Medical Officer of Health)," the division said.
The division said as an additional measure of surveillance, the authorities in Tobago will be working with Immigration officials to document everyone arriving in Tobago who travelled to China in the last 14 days. Those people will be monitored by O-CMOH staff daily for symptoms.
The division encouraged the public to implement simple, preventative measures to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The division's action comes amid concern about the THA's strategy for preventing the virus from entering the island.
Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) deputy political leader Dr Faith BYisrael on Tuesday expressed grave concerns about the island's preparedness.
Claiming Health Minister Dr Terrence Deyalsingh has not been very vocal on the issue, BYisrael said she has heard "absolutely nothing" from Dr Agatha Carrington, Secretary for Health, Wellness and Family Development.
"On behalf of the people of Tobago who are now seeing people in the streets dying because of this virus, (we want to know) whether we are prepared here in Tobago, particularly the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) as the organisation that is responsible for administering health," she told reporters on Tuesday during a news conference at James Park, Scarborough.
BYisrael said she heard several scanners are in Tobago to do the thermal testing of individuals disembarking boats and planes.
"But we want to know whether there is a comprehensive response plan that has been worked out."
A public healthcare practitioner, BYisrael recalled she was part of the planning team that had formulated a response to the HINI virus (swine flu) some years ago.
"Heaven forbid, if we identify someone who has the signs and the symptoms of this coronavirus, what happens next?" she asked.
"Have we identified a space for quarantining those individuals? Because we recognise that the virus is spreading rapidly. Have we really identified a space that we can truly say, if a boat load or if a plane load of people come in, we can quarantine that plane and have those individuals placed somewhere?"
She also wondered if there were protocols in the TRHA to ensure workers are not put at risk.
"That is one of the things we have to be careful of – our TRHA workers need to ensure that they are not placed at additional risk because they are doing what we are asking them to do, because they are doing what they are being paid to do."
BYisrael also wondered if medication is available in Tobago to treat with the coronavirus.
"Have we been looking at the fact that in China they seem to be using HIV-specific medication to treat some of the individuals with the coronvirus? Do we have the necessary gloves, masks, shields? Do we have all of those things ready just in case tomorrow morning there is a plane load of people coming to Tobago with the coronavirus?"
BYisrael said if all of these things have been put in place, Carrington must allay the fears of Tobagonians.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The novel coronavirus can be transmitted from individual to individual, usually after close contact with an infected patient. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, pneumonia and severe respiratory syndrome.
*Clean hands with soap and water or alcohol based hand rub.
*Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or flexed elbow.
*Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
*Practice social distancing (keep a minimum of 3 feet away from people).
*Thoroughly cook meats and eggs.
* Always have protected contact with live animals (wild or farm).