As the World Health Organisation raised its threat level to five, warning that a global swine flu pandemic is imminent, the Cayman Islands remains free of swine flu – for now.
But health officials warned Thursday it is probably just a matter of time before suspected cases turn up on our shores.
‘It’s too late to control the spread of this virus,’ said Health Services Authority Medical Director Dr. Greg Hoeksema. ‘Our responsibility is to mitigate the effect.’
If a pandemic does materialise, officials are predicting that up to 25 per cent of the Cayman Islands population could be infected over a 15 to 18 month period after the virus first arriving here, which is in line with worldwide pandemic forecasts.
In addition to the 3,000 courses of Tamiflu due to arrive here over the weekend, HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood said another 10,000 courses will be delivered to the Cayman Islands in the coming fortnight.
As confirmed worldwide swine flu cases rose to 257, Governor Stuart Jack chaired a key emergency national influenza pandemic committee Wednesday to discuss the nation’s readiness and to review the government and private sector response.
Health officials also met with private doctors across the Islands Thursday morning to discuss how they should respond to suspected cases.
Ministry of Health Chief Officer Diane Montoya said health officials have been working around the clock – some forsaking a whole night’s sleep – to rush the country’s preparations to completion.
In Mexico, swine flu is suspected of killing 168 people and making a further 3,000 sick.
In the US, health officials on Thursday stressed that people with flu-like symptoms should avoid public transportation but said everyone else needs only to follow commonsense precautions, as the nation’s swine flu cases passed 100, reaching 16 states.
The Obama administration stood solidly against closing the US-Mexico border, with Vice President Joe Biden calling it “a monumental undertaking” that would do little good. Closing the border now would be, President Barack Obama put it Wednesday night, “akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out.”
While Cayman’s tourism Minister has been warning that a global swine flu pandemic could hit the nation’s tourism industry hard, early indications, at least, show tourism providers are benefiting.
‘We have seen increased business with the cruise lines,’ said Ministry of Tourism Chief Officer Gloria McField-Nixon. ‘[Hotels] are seeing increased activity in terms of booking right now from people that had planned vacations that are shifting them over to the Cayman Islands.’
Cayman’s health officials continue to stress the importance of maintaining personal hygiene, Mr. Hoeksema stating Thursday his key public health message is ‘hand washing, hand washing, hand washing.’
They continue to advise people to avoid non-essential travel to areas affected by swine flu, including Mexico and parts of the United States.
US scientists are racing to develop the key vaccine ingredient – a strain of the virus engineered to trigger the immune system. But they cautioned again Thursday that it would take several months before enough doses could roll off assembly lines for the necessary testing in human volunteers.
The US has reported the only death outside Mexico – a Mexican toddler who visited Texas with his family.