A field hospital with the capacity to isolate or quarantine up to 16 patients will be set up at a cost of $800,000 as officials move to ensure the Cayman Islands has the capacity to cope if the deadly Ebola virus reaches the territory.
Cabinet approved a travel ban Tuesday preventing anyone who had recently visited the affected region of West Africa from entering the country, according to a senior health official.
The territory already has 500 protective suits, while additional hoods and head shields have been ordered and an “Ebola care team” is being trained in preparation for the worst case scenario.
Authorities remain confident that the chances of the disease reaching these shores are still extremely remote, but say Cayman will be ready to cope if it does.
Speaking following a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, confirmed that two modular units – each capable of housing eight patients in a lockdown environment – would be ordered. She said one was designed to quarantine patients who had been exposed to the disease, while the other would be available for patients who were displaying symptoms to be kept in isolation. She said the units were purpose built for medical emergencies to be handled in a safe manner.
A travel ban on anyone entering the country who has been to Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo in the previous 21 days was also approved Tuesday. Ms. Yearwood said contingency plans were still required in case anyone tried to slip through the net.
She acknowledged it was possible that visitors could lie about their travel history to avoid having their vacation ruined, but said border control officials would be on the lookout for passengers who appeared to be sick and would be able to verify information through passport checks.
She said if anyone on a plane to the Cayman Islands was identified as showing symptoms of ill-health and had visited the affected region or been exposed to the disease, health officials may have to quarantine every passenger on the plane.
“A person cannot pass on the virus unless they are symptomatic – fever, vomiting, bleeding. If a person is symptomatic on a plane, then all passengers would have to be quarantined,” she said.
At the port, cruise lines are required to report any sicknesses on board, and passengers from the affected countries will not be allowed to disembark. Carnival Cruise Lines announced this week that it has banned anyone who has recently visited the affected region from boarding its ships.
The Carnival Magic cruise ship was the subject of an Ebola scare last week after it emerged that a passenger on board had potentially been exposed to the virus. Tests on the exposed worker came back negative for Ebola, and the ship is expected to visit the Cayman Islands later this week after being given the all clear to resume cruising in the Caribbean by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ms. Yearwood said several medical staff had stepped up to offer their services.
“A number of staff have already volunteered to serve on the Ebola Care Team and we will do everything to ensure that they and their families are protected,” she said.
Liaison is also taking place with Health City Cayman Islands and the Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital over protocols if any patient shows up at their facilities with symptoms and a suspect travel history.