The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in the Cayman Islands, Premier Alden McLaughlin said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
The patient is a visitor – a 68-year-old man from Italy – who was transferred from a cruise ship to Health City Cayman Islands for a critical cardiac issue, the premier said.
McLaughlin said the man, who arrived in Cayman in 29 Feb., is doing well and is still in isolation in hospital, adding, “We are confident that all the appropriate measures have been and continue to be taken and the patient poses no risk to the broader community.”
The man was among six who had been tested for coronavirus in Cayman. Four tested negative and the result of a sixth test is still pending.
The premier said an emergency Cabinet meeting will be held Friday to discuss expanding travel restrictions.
“We will be extending the travel ban to include a significant number of new countries. I do not want to preempt Cabinet’s decision by going into those details right now, but we have spent the entire day dealing with a whole range of issues arising from the threat of this virus,” McLaughlin said.
He said the closing of local schools is also under consideration.
Government, he said, is in constant contact with business, school and health officials.
“We are going to have to make some radical and drastic decisions that are going to impact social behaviour, travel and, indeed, people’s economic circumstance, but we believe that unless we do so, the results will be potentially devastating, indeed tragic, for these islands. We will not allow, because of a lack of willingness to make hard decisions, the situation to obtain which is currently the case in places like Italy and the United States,” McLaughlin said.
Prior to the start of the press conference, the premier and the panel demonstrated that they were taking their own advice to avoid handshakes and close contact, by greeting each other with elbow bumps.
McLaughlin could not say if Cayman will close its borders, but said he was not taking chances when it comes to COVID-19.
“We are planning for the worst while working very hard to do our best to ensure we don’t get there,” he said.
Dr. Binoy Chattuparambil, of Health City, said the patient had come to the hospital with cardiac disease and did not have respiratory symptoms when he was admitted.
He said the patient had been getting better from a cardiac point of view when he developed mild respiratory symptoms. From that moment, he was in isolation.
Officials urge calm
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, at the press conference, warned against the spreading of rumours and fake news, following a series of inaccurate social media postings and messages.
He urged the public not to panic and not to panic buy.
“Our preparedness work is comprehensive on one front and it involves actions to minimise risk of exposure amongst the local population. On the other front, we are taking actions to make sure the public health system is enhanced and upgraded so we can treat patients in the event that we see cases of coronavirus in Cayman, as we now have,” he said.
“We are securing additional supplies and equipment at the present time. I can assure you we have enough clinical and personal protective equipment on island and for health facilities,” Seymour added.
He said government has taken steps to advance order supplies, like beds and ventilators, to ensure healthcare providers have the resources they need.
A public health meeting on coronavirus, which was scheduled for Thursday evening in Bodden Town, has been cancelled, as officials advised against attending public gatherings, including churches.
“There will be some who say I should not say this, but if I were you I would stay home. I can worship God at home too,” the premier said.
World Health Organisation leaders on Wednesday declared the outbreak to be “the first pandemic caused by coronavirus”. There have been 125,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across at least 117 countries, according to the WHO. There have been 4,613 deaths associated with the virus.
Healthcare officials assured that the country is prepared to manage any outbreak and that people should continue to follow the previously stated guidelines – wash hands regularly, cover sneezes, clean surfaces and avoid close social contact.
The public can use the flu hotline 1-800-534-8600 to make reports.
Additional reporting by Norma Connolly and James Whittaker.
Note: An earlier version of this story stated that the cruise ship visitor arrived on 9 March on a Princess Cruises ship. This information was incorrect. The patient arrived in the Cayman Islands on 29 Feb.