People need not rush out to buy face masks as protection against the Wuhan novel coronavirus as it is not here and is unlikely to reach TT’s shores, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram said on Wednesday. He was among officials interviewed by Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriation Committee at Cabildo Chambers, Port of Spain.
Chairman Bridgid Annisette-George asked about people seen wearing face masks.
Parasram remarked, “We don’t recommend to the population wearing masks at this point because we have no cases of the coronavirus.”
Asked about a shortage of these masks in TT, he said, “The unfortunate thing is that China produces most of the masks.” Members erupted into nervous giggles, having earlier discussed the risk of infection from items shipped from China.
Parasram said the ministry has 25,600 such masks in stock. In an emergency, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has a supply in Panama, he disclosed.
When pointedly asked if he will be playing mas this Carnival, Parasram replied, “I don’t think there is a risk of coronavirus to the country, given all we have discussed.
“When we speak of influenza, it is Carnival and close mingling of people is considered a threat to public health, spread of disease, generally.
“The two main things we get is common cold/influenza and gastroenteritis, during any Carnival season or any season where you have big gatherings coming together. So, the precautions are necessary, but everybody has to assess their individual risk.”
He said the groups most vulnerable to a contagious infection were the elderly over age 65, children under five, pregnant women, the immuno compromised, asthmatics and diabetics. He urged hand-washing or use of hand sanitiser, coughing into your sleeve, staying home if ill, and only buying sanitary food.
Parasram reckoned a vaccine, now being formulated, was years away from being available.
Given the fears of some nurses to act during the previous global Ebola scare, the CMO said talks had been begun about life insurance and hazard insurance for those staff at risk.
Parasram said while any swab sample to be tested for the coronavirus is now sent to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, by next week the Caribbean Public Health Authority will be able to do tests in TT, with results within 24-48 hours. A two hour test is also on the cards, he said. Asked if the virus may exit in meat imported from China, the CMO said it is mostly suspected of being in snake or bat flesh which he did not think has been imported into TT.
Committee member Nicole Olivierre asked if one can catch the virus from a package shipped from China. Parasram said much is unknown about this new virus, whose lifespan in open air he estimated at between a few hours and a few days, all depending on the conditions and type of surface it was on. He said any packages thought to come from China, such as by online shopping, could be wiped down with a sanitising cloth doused with rubbing alcohol before opening, with hands washed afterwards. Parasram said the risk of infection from packages is low, due to the far distance they must travel. On Wednesday, CNN reported 494 deaths and 24,600 infections from the virus globally, by far mostly in China, but also in 25 other countries.