Health officials are set to request Cabinet approval for just over $1 million as part of local coronavirus response preparations.
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, speaking at a press briefing at the Government Administration Building on Monday, said an official request for the funds will be presented when Cabinet meets Tuesday.
“It’s [more than] a million dollars that’s being asked for and that is to prepare a room for persons, if anyone gets infected. That would include buying additional equipment. The room has been identified at the [Health Services Authority]. The premier has said whatever it takes, we will vote the funds to ensure that this happens,” Seymour said.
He assured that there is an “action plan in place, which all parties are executing as needed”. Those parties include Customs and Border Control, HSA and local healthcare providers, as well as other government agencies.
“I am confident that the Cayman Islands is ready to tackle any threats that come to our shores in this regard,” the minister said.
As of Monday, Chinese health authorities’ latest figures showed 361 deaths and 17,205 confirmed cases in China. World Health Organization data indicated that, as at Sunday, 24 countries, including China, had reported cases of the new strain of the coronavirus.
The WHO issued a global health emergency on the virus last week, and several countries have already implemented travel bans on China.
On Sunday, the Philippines recorded the first coronavirus-related death outside of China.
Postponing travel to China recommended
Seymour said the National Security Council will be meeting Tuesday to discuss Cayman’s response to the virus threat, including whether a travel ban should be implemented here.
In the interim, Seymour advised against travelling to China.
“I recommend that all Caribbean or Caymanian citizens should postpone their travel to China until the all-clear is given, whether it’s for vacation, business or conferences,” he said.
He encouraged the public to do their homework when it comes to the virus as there may have been “myths and misconceptions” spreading on social media.
“What we know so far is that transmission from people with no symptoms is not likely to be a major form of transmission. Persons who have symptoms will have spread the virus more readily through coughing and sneezing. Therefore, the public is reminded to be in the know about the 2019 novel coronavirus,” he said.
While the virus is a global threat, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said new reports put the mortality rate at 2%.
He said both the mortality rate and the infectivity rate of the coronavirus are low compared to some other pandemics, but added, “Unfortunately, pandemics are becoming an increasing issue in this century. We have had more already in the last 20 years than we have had in many, many centuries before that.”
Monitoring at local points of entry has already commenced, and Deputy Director of Customs and Border Control Gary Wong said his staff is taking the coronavirus outbreak very seriously.
“The officers of Customs and Border Control are being very vigilant in ensuring that they check all arriving passengers. [At] the ports of entry, they are going through [travellers’] documents to ensure that they have not visited China within the last few weeks, and we are being extremely vigilant with this matter,” he said at the media briefing.
Wong said that Customs and Border Control has been sending information to the HSA about individuals arriving from affected countries, and those showing signs of sickness will be monitored.
He added that his officers have been provided with a kit to ensure their safety as they are the first point of contact when people come off ships and aircraft.
“We just need the public to be assured that we are doing our part as the border control officers to ensure that we keep this coronavirus away from our shores,” Wong added.
Lee said a key part of ensuring this happens is public interaction.
“What we are trying to do is to allow people to bring themselves forward, because certainly even though you institute screening, even though you provide people information, you may miss people that have come into the country who may potentially be at risk,” he said.
Lee added that the most important thing to do “is to make sure that every traveller is aware of the potential symptoms and that if they’ve been travelling, they need to come forward and report themselves to the local healthcare practitioner”. He said travellers would not necessarily have had to have been to China to be potentially exposed, as passengers travelling through an airport could come into contact with someone who may have been to China.
In the case of visitors or those who may not have health insurance, both Seymour and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriquez said systems were in place for such instances.
They added that not having insurance should not be a deterrent to seeking medical care.
24 countries with confirmed cases
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
- Russian Federation
- United Arab Emirates