Shortly before the World Health Organization declared coronavirus as a global emergency on Thursday, Cayman’s Public Health Department announced that surveillance is being stepped up at local borders, and visitors coming to the Caribbean from coronavirus-affected countries would undergo “entrance screening”.
The WHO issued the global emergency alert after the virus, first found in China, was reported in 18 other countries and the number of cases spiked tenfold in a week.
The UN health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
To date, China has reported more than 7,800 cases, including 170 deaths.
The statement issued by Cayman health officials did not elaborate on what form the screening or surveillance at the islands’ borders would take, stating just that “surveillance has already been enhanced at all borders”.
“The potential for international dissemination of the virus via air travel is clear from the rise in cases reported in multiple countries,” the statement read.
Acting Port Director Joseph Woods elaborated on protocol regarding cruise ship arrivals.
“On the cruise side, we receive a Maritime Declaration of Health prior to the ships’ arrival.
Public Health can then assess and decide what action, if any, is required. It’s the same protocols we used with SARS and Ebola scenarios. We will also be posting Public Health information posters once available,” he told the Compass.
In the case of the Ebola virus in 2014, government officials from 13 agencies in Cayman collaborated on prevention efforts, including entry screening; isolation and quarantine plan; use of protective equipment, including 500 protective suits; and contingency plans for issues such as transportation. Customs forms were amended to include a question about whether incoming travellers were arriving from countries where Ebola had been reported.
With regard to coronavirus, public health officials are reminding arriving passengers to seek medical attention and to share their travel history with their healthcare provider if they have symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness. Common symptoms of the virus are shortness of breath and cough, along with flu-like symptoms and fever.
No cases of suspected coronavirus have been reported in the Cayman Islands and no cases have been confirmed in the Caribbean.
The statement from Cayman officials on Thursday said, “Public Health officials and the management of the Health Services Authority wish to assure the public on their capability to manage any imported cases of the novel coronavirus and continue to activate national contingency plans as needed.”
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control began screening measures Monday at the nation’s 20 busiest airports. At Miami International Airport, a quarantine station has been established.
The Caribbean Public Health Agency said it is working with international health partners to prevent transmission to the region. CARPHA has recommended its member states review public health emergency plans, request travel history on passenger arrival surveys, and establish the necessary staff and support structures to implement screening measures.
Neither the Public Health Department nor Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control had responded by press time to requests for comment to elaborate on the coronavirus screening measures in Cayman.