Cayman’s National Security Council is expected to meet early this week to consider whether travel restrictions should be implemented locally in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
This comes as the World Health Organization issued a global emergency alert last Thursday after the virus, first found in China, was reported in 18 other countries and the number of cases increased tenfold in a week.
On Sunday, the first coronavirus death outside of China was reported in the Philippines. So far, 304 people have died from the virus and thousands have been infected.
Local health and border officials in Cayman will hold a media briefing on the virus on Monday morning.
A Government Information Service statement on the briefing said, “A multi-disciplinary committee is meeting regularly to plan and calibrate the Cayman Islands’ response to the virus.”
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour told the Legislative Assembly Friday that the National Security Council will meet to discuss Cayman’s response “and will consider whether travel restrictions may be in the national interest and any further actions deemed necessary”.
He said local healthcare providers have already been put on alert for the virus.
Since WHO’s declaration of the global health emergency, a number of countries have announced travel restrictions on China. US airlines Delta, American and United have suspended flights to China.
To date, China has reported at least 304 deaths from the virus, and more than 14,380 infected.
Seymour said the Public Health Department held a multi-sectoral meeting on the virus last Wednesday, which included Customs and Border Control, the Port Authority, the Cayman Islands Airports Authority and Health Services Authority staff.
Seymour said a number of measures will be implemented, including distribution of face masks at the entrance of clinics for patients exhibiting respiratory symptoms, as well as monitoring of passengers with travel history to the countries affected by the virus.
“Customs and Border Control officers have already been screening all arriving passengers for travel history to China who will be notified to Public Health. Public Health will then monitor these people for the incubation period and support their healthcare needs as necessary,” Seymour said.
The Public Health Department, he said, has been communicating with Cayman Airways, offering support and advice.
“Officials have been in contact with the cruise-ship industry and have been informed that cruise ships have been conducting screening on all joining passengers. It is also reassuring to know that travellers who are coming from China are being screened on arrival at USA, Canada, UK and beyond,” the minister added.
He said the HSA is planning to increase its response capacity to deal with the virus, which will include sourcing additional equipment and supplies.
Responding to queries from Deputy Leader of the Opposition Alva Suckoo, Seymour said costing for the equipment has been done. He added that the paperwork for the equipment would be delivered to Cabinet on Tuesday.
Suckoo questioned if Cayman had a quarantine area if infected people are detected.
Seymour replied that an area has been identified at the Health Services Authority for quarantine, which would be for 14 days.
“You would have to do some re-arranging of furniture, and beds will have to be bought and so forth, for the quarantine area, but the area has been identified,” he said.
Seymour said private healthcare providers are on alert and are able to support as necessary.
Suckoo also questioned what the monitoring of passengers entails, as well as the turnaroumd time for testing.
The minister said Cayman has a machine for doing virus testing, and personnel will be trained to use it.
“We are trying to get testing done locally so we can get quick results. At the moment, CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency] is trying to ready up itself to be able to do testing. Other than that, there is no other testing being done, so we are trying to get it here on island at HSA,” Seymour said.
The minister urged members of the public to educate themselves about the coronavirus, pointing out that it is in the same family of the virus that causes the common cold.
He advised those who are travelling abroad to practise proper hygiene methods, such as frequent washing of hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
Seymour added that high-visibility information will be posted at local ports within days.
Symptoms of 2019-nCoV symptoms
Shortness of breath
Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 after exposure