The Cayman Islands government has allocated $1.1 million to prepare for the COVID-19 threat.
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, speaking at a public meeting on coronavirus on Tuesday night, said Cabinet had approved the budget to combat the disease, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday. As of Tuesday, six people in the Cayman Islands had been tested for coronavirus.
Officials said more funds could be allocated, depending on how the situation develops.
“We are prepared to go further, investing heavily in the procurement of additional supplies and to further equip the hospitals and district clinics,” Seymour said.
Health Services Authority CEO Lizzette Yearwood said the extra funding was welcome as the HSA is already short-staffed and needs to hire more personnel. She added that funds also would go towards hospital equipment, such as ventilators, extra beds and extra monitors.
“We at HSA are already short on staff and we need to pay additional people to man the new flu lines and pay personnel for being part of this new unit to combat the virus,” Yearwood said.
The WHO announced Wednesday that COVID-19 virus, which has swept into at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people, is now officially a pandemic. It is the first time the WHO has called an outbreak a pandemic since the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ in 2009.
More than 50 residents gathered at Red Bay’s Mary Miller Hall Tuesday for Grand Cayman’s first public meeting about coronavirus with local health and government officials.
As well as Seymour and Yearwood, the panel included Premier Alden McLaughlin, Health Councillor Austin Harris, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, HSA Medical Officer of Health Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, Ministry of Health Chief Financial Officer Nellie Pouchie, and Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman.
Local testing starts next week
Williams-Rodriguez explained at the meeting that local testing will start next week.
“The number of persons in isolation under investigation for COVID-19 is six; five samples were sent to CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) on Monday and one sample is to be sent today or tomorrow,” he said.
Addressing Jamaica’s recent confirmation that it had recorded its first case of coronavirus, the premier said that the government regards this as a real threat, “not just a threat of public health, but a significant economic threat”.
“In recent days, it has crept closer and closer to us, with the most recent instance being the confirmation of the virus in neighbouring Jamaica, so over the course of the last couple of months, the government has been working on a comprehensive plan to address this issue and almost every agency of government is involved,” McLaughlin added.
On the perceived irony of holding a public meeting to discuss an infectious disease, the premier said it was important that the public is educated about the threat from the virus, adding that future such meetings were unlikely, and that a similar meeting scheduled in Bodden Town on Thursday night may be the last one.
Local cases ‘inevitable’
“Our first effort is to try to keep the virus out of our shores, but the reality is with 2.5 million visitors a year and the way Caymanians and residents travel, it is quite frankly inevitable that it will arrive on our shores if it has not already done so,” McLaughlin said.
The government last week banned non-essential travel for civil servants and on Tuesday, McLaughlin urged the private sector to do the same.
Answering a question from a member of the public, the premier said that coronavirus testing will be free, and the government is considering travel restrictions to the Sister Islands or even district lockdowns if the Cayman Islands experiences an outbreak.
Chief Medical Officer Lee told the audience, “The virus is probably coming; the next phase of this is to contain it, and that’s where we need the public’s help.”
He urged people who have respiratory symptoms to isolate themselves immediately and to pass on this advice to colleagues or friends.
“What we really want to do is to slow the spread through the community so that we can stop it in some areas totally. It is absolutely not the case that everybody is going to be desperately ill. Please be reassured by that up to 90% of people will have either a mild case or condition, or not be affected at all,” Lee said.
“I need to tell you that, for a doctor, mild means something a little bit different to a citizen, so when I say ‘mild’, I mean that you wouldn’t have to go to a hospital, you may be in bed for a day or two or have a fever, like you have the flu, but you don’t need to receive medical care. It’s only that 10% that may struggle and need that additional care.”
Regarding control at the various ports of entry to Cayman, Lee said the Port Authority has been very proactive with medical screening of cruise line passengers and maintaining active communications with cruise ship associations.
“We made a decision that there was no value in doing temperature screenings at airports because … there’s a window in which people may have the condition that come into the country and not have a temperature,” Lee said.
Customs and Border Control has been a big help in “intelligence screening” at the airports, he added. He said some of the people who have been monitored had come forward after being referred to medical authorities by CBC staff.
Lee said there are currently public health personnel located at the airport.
Health Minister Seymour said adjustments to social behaviours would be beneficial in slowing the spread of the virus.
“We Caymanians are an affectionate nation, but I urge you to follow the advice of the health professionals and to keep three to six feet away from people who are displaying flu-like symptoms,” Seymour said.
Another public meeting on coronavirus will be held on Thursday, 12 March, at the Bodden Town Civic Centre.
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