Following the first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Jamaica, Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands announced yesterday that the government does not intend to issue a travel ban for the country, noting that Bahamians do not need to “overreact” over the outbreak.
According to a statement from Jamaican Minister of Health Christopher Tufton, a female patient, who recently traveled to the United Kingdom, has been in isolation since Monday.
“She arrived on the island on March 4, presented to the public health system on March 9 and has been in isolation since then,” Tufton said yesterday.
The confirmation made Jamaica the fourth Caribbean country to have the virus in its borders. The Dominican Republic, Saint Bart’s and Saint Martin also have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Tufton said a number of measures are being taken to prevent community spread in the country, including the dispatch of a health team to the patient’s home for assessment, the tracing of all her possible contacts and a meeting with Ministry of Health officials and hospital staff to ensure the necessary interventions are put in place.
Jamaica is not allowing the entry of non-residents who have recently traveled to China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Singapore, South Korea or Spain. Residents who have recently traveled to any of the countries are subject to health assessment and quarantine.
Tufton advised that public gatherings and non-essential travel are discouraged.
Sands said there will not be special screening protocols or automatic quarantine for Bahamians arriving from Jamaica.
He also advised Bahamians there to “listen to the advice of the Jamaican health authorities and please don’t overreact”.
He said there is currently no reason for Bahamian students in Jamaican education institutions to return to The Bahamas.
“So, in terms of whether I think people should go and get their children from Jamaica: no, I don’t,” the minister told The Nassau Guardian.
He added, “I would go if I had business in Jamaica. Again, we’re talking about risks and if you are so frightened that you don’t want to travel anywhere, okay fine, I understand that.
“However, you believe that somehow you can limit your travel to only those places that are clean and pristine, meaning that there are no infectious disease risks, then I think you’re going to be hard-pressed except to go to Antarctica. And I don’t know how you would get to Antarctica unless you go through some of the other countries who are working aggressively to control the outbreak.”
As of yesterday, there have been more than 113,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 110 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
At least 4,000 people have died from the virus globally.
In recent weeks, the government has announced that China, Italy, Iran and South Korea have been added to the government’s travel ban amid the global spread of COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, in late December.
Asked whether Jamaica would be added to that list, Sands told The Nassau Guardian, “Absolutely not.”
There is a large population of Bahamian students in Jamaica.
There are also hundreds of Jamaicans who live in and frequently visit The Bahamas.
Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd could not be reached last night for an outline on the government’s plan to deal with those students.
When reached for a comment, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield declined to speak.
Terrel Butler, the honorary consul for the Jamaican Consulate in The Bahamas, advised that all Bahamians in Jamaica “take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety”.
While noting that she wasn’t sure “of how widely it has spread” in Jamaica, Butler told The Guardian, “I would advise them to listen to the advisories published by the Ministry of Health. They appear to be on top of things.”
There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has vowed that the government “will not take any chances” as it relates to COVID-19.
Yesterday, Sands said, “It would be unreasonable for me to suggest that The Bahamas has the ability to prevent the importation of a COVID-19 case since no other country — at least 117 others — have not been able to do so. And many of them have some of the most sophisticated and advanced public health systems in the world.
“What we can do, however, is to ensure that our emphasis, our focus is on identification and appropriate management to isolate to prevent community spread. And so, that is where our emphasis has been.”
The minister said the government tested its COVID-19 testing system at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) yesterday.
He said the system “worked extremely well”.