With no reported, suspected or confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus to date in The Bahamas since it was first reported from Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019 – Bahamians are encouraged to keep informed by Dr. Pearl McMillan, chief medical officer, Ministry of Health, who says if Bahamians must utilize online sources for information, she encourages the use of sites that are reputable such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), WHO (World Health Organization), or PAHO (Pan American Health Organization).
“Use sites that are reputable – sites that give you real information as it relates to this new virus,” said McMillan. “[But] we have no reported, no suspected, or confirmed cases in country now [and] that is very important.”
To date, 15 people have been quarantined in country, a decision taken by health authorities for Bahamians returning home from China.
“We are monitoring them because they were potentially exposed. And if they develop symptoms, they are in a place where we will know early, and be able to contain the virus in the country – hence we are monitoring the symptoms of all persons who would have returned home in a quarantined site,” said McMillan.
Those people under quarantine are monitored for 14 days from the point of their last possible exposure, during which time their vitals and temperatures are monitored.
McMillan stressed that the people currently under quarantine are not ill and doing well.
People who aren’t residents of The Bahamas and who may have possibly been exposed to the virus, aren’t being allowed into the country.
The WHO is working with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge of the new virus to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of the outbreak.
The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 40,600 people globally, according to the latest figures by global health authorities as of Monday, February 10.
The virus is transmitted by respiratory spread – through coughing, sneezing and by droplet, which, according to McMillan, means that if a person does not cover their sneeze and cough, and drops go on a table, a person can come behind them, put their hands on the infected table, place their hands in their face and likely be infected.
As with all respiratory viruses, McMillan said while the novel coronavirus has not been identified in country, she encourages people to practice preventive measures.
When coughing and sneezing, people are encouraged to cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue, discard the tissue immediately and clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water; and to practice frequent hand-washing, which helps to remove whatever a person may have come into contact with unknowingly.
“And then, of course, if somebody near you is coughing or sneezing, you may want to just distance yourself slightly to decrease the likelihood of becoming infected with whatever they have,” she said.
The WHO advises that people maintain at least a three-foot distance between themselves and other people – particularly those who are coughing, sneezing, and have a fever – because when someone who is infected with a respiratory disease like the novel coronavirus, coughs or sneezes, they project small droplets containing the virus, and if you’re too close, the virus can be breathed in. People are also advised against touching their eyes, nose and mouth because if they touch a contaminated surface, they can transfer the virus from the surface to themselves.
The WHO reports that as with other respiratory illnesses, infection with the novel coronavirus can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever – but can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal, according to the WHO. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes and heart diseases), they say, appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.
McMillan said The Bahamas has done well in its planning, and has to be prepared, and that currently the recommendation is for only essential travel to China at this time by the WHO.
If a person must travel to China at this time, she said they should practice safe hygiene in order to decrease the likelihood of actually coming into contact with the virus.
She said Bahamians also have no need to walk around wearing masks.
“Certainly, in healthcare environments, if somebody presents, and they have symptoms suggestive of a respiratory illness, then we have guidelines for what should happen then, which includes using a mask on the person, and then the healthcare providers also using what we call personal protective equipment. But the recommendation is not for the general public to walk around with masks.”
McMillan said the public measures put in place globally, regionally and within the sub-region of the Caribbean and in The Bahamas, means countries are doing what they need to do to be able to diminish the likelihood of introduction of the novel coronavirus into the population.