Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands spoke with Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) employees yesterday to quell concerns over the potential spread of a coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.
Sands said there was concern over the government’s decision to not implement thermal screening at the airport.
“Our frontline officers, immigration, customs, police officers etc. that work at our major port, they had some important questions,” he said.
“[W]e went down. We had a very candid and open exchange, and we were able to explain a lot of reasons why there is no reason to panic, why it is appropriate to make sure that people do what they can do to protect themselves and why we have taken the approach that we have taken or that we have not taken, specifically why we have not been doing thermal screening and other interventions like they are doing at only selective airports in the United States.”
At least 106 people in China have died so far from the virus and there are nearly 3,000 cases in 15 different countries, including the United States, Canada and France.
Sands said the government will continue to make its decisions based on the advice of international health organizations.
“We are following the advice of the international public health agencies like the World Health Organization, the PanAmerican Health Organization, CARFA, CDC, etc.,” he said.
“And you may have heard a lot of comments, particularly on social media about what we should do, how we should do it and so on and so forth. And we are trying to follow the evidence about this disease.
“So far, there are only about five airports in the United States that have any special screening set up. And to our best advice, we don’t believe that setting up thermal screening at LPIA is going to add much to protect Bahamians. Our interest is the interest of Bahamians.
“We participate in the International Health Regulations and we co-operate with WHO, PAHO, etc. Yes, immigration is watching very closely for persons who may have been in Wuhan, who may want to travel to the impacted or affected areas of China, and that will certainly get them flagged. It’s very important that we do not make irrational policy decisions borne out of fear.”
Sands said Bahamians in Wuhan will likely remain there until the outbreak is over.
“We have, I’m advised, five Bahamians [there], all of whom are in good physical shape,” he said.
“None of them, we are advised, have been infected by the virus. The have been monitored. They are well and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in close contact with them.
“And they will likely remain in Wuhan until this pandemic, this epidemic, this outbreak ends. We don’t know very much about this virus. It was only discovered in December.”
Asked what the government’s plan is in the case that an infected person does enter the country, Sands said it will be treated similarly to ebola.
“We would deal with it the same way we would deal with ebola – isolation, determine whether or not this is a real risk and then treat the person accordingly,” he said.