Travelers arriving in Grand Cayman who have recently visited West Africa will be assessed by medics and quarantined as part of a new screening process designed to stop the Ebola virus reaching the island.
Some healthcare workers will also be given additional training and will be issued with protective suits amid increasing anxiety about the disease, which has killed around 5,000 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Anyone arriving in Cayman who has visited those countries in the four weeks prior to their trip will have their temperature taken and be either isolated or quarantined for up to 21 days from the date of their departure from the affected region, according to health officials.
Dr. Kiran Kumar, director of public health for the Cayman Islands, said a “suitable area” had been identified and such travelers would be supervised and monitored twice daily. Anyone showing signs of a fever will be placed in isolation, he said.
The new measures follow the news on Friday that the Carnival Magic cruise ship, a frequent visitor to Grand Cayman, was denied permission to dock in Cozumel, Mexico, after it emerged that a passenger on board had potentially been exposed to the virus.
Cruise passenger tests negative
The passenger – a Texas healthcare lab worker who worked at the laboratory where samples from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan were examined – was voluntarily quarantined on board the ship, which returned to its port of origin in Galveston, Texas.
The results of blood tests on Sunday confirmed the woman did not have Ebola. However, the incident sparked fears about tourists potentially bringing Ebola to the Caribbean.
Mr. Duncan, a Liberian national and the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Oct. 8. Since then, two nurses who helped care for him have tested positive for the virus – one after flying between Dallas and Cleveland on a commercial jet.
The Carnival Magic does call in Grand Cayman – the same ship damaged a large patch of coral after accidentally dropping its anchor on a reef off George Town during a scheduled visit in August. However, the Cayman Islands was not on the itinerary on this trip.
The Ministry of Tourism released a statement on Friday confirming there was no threat to the territory. “The Ministry wishes to advise the public that the Carnival Magic was last in the Cayman Islands two weeks ago and there are no indications that the ship or its passengers presented any risk at that time,” the statement said.
Ebola planning committee assembled
Later on Friday, the Ministry of Health issued a statement saying it had assembled an Ebola planning committee, headed by Dr. Kumar and involving officials from 13 agencies including police, immigration and the Health Services Authority. The committee has been meeting since mid-August to discuss Cayman’s response to the global threat posed by the virus, according to the statement.
Immigration officers will be tasked with asking visitors to fill out a questionnaire on their recent travel history and alerting the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority if any passenger has been to the affected region.
Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the HSA, said travelers who showed signs of a fever would be treated as suspect cases.
She added “Plans are also in place for the isolation and management of such cases until a full-fledged field unit can be arranged.”
“We are procuring adequate protective gear for Cayman Islands Hospital staff, and have organized training in all aspects of the management of the virus with the support of an overseas health facility. We are confident we can manage if the need arises,” she added.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said Cabinet will meet Tuesday for a briefing and update on Ebola.
“I can assure all that we have a robust communicable disease surveillance system already in place and the Ministry of Health, as well as the Health Services Authority, have already begun work on identifying protocols to deal with the disease should the need arise,” the premier said.