The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has said the immediate health risk of the coronavirus in this country and the rest of the Caribbean region remains low but has urged member nations to be “proactive and vigilant”.

In a statement issued yesterday Executive Director of CARPHA, Dr Joy St. John said “Presently, there have been no confirmed cases or reports of the 2019-nCoV in the Caribbean region and based on current information, the immediate health risk from this virus to the general public remains low. CARPHA is monitoring developments and working closely with its international health partners to respond to this health threat and provide timely advice and support to the preparedness activities of Caribbean Member States.”

It said coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

it added this 2019-nCoV virus is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there have been more than 300 cases reported globally, as of 21st January. However, late on 22nd January, the Chinese National Health Committee reported more than 571 confirmed cases of patients with pneumonia and 17 fatalities caused by the 2019-nCoV. Imported cases have been reported by other countries including Thailand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America (USA).

CARPHA said because of the recently confirmed case of the virus in the USA, it has issued advice to Health Authorities on measures to reduce the risk of importation of the disease to the Caribbean region, as well as advice to Caribbean travellers in the affected area in China.

The executive director added, “CARPHA is aware that this is an early stage of the outbreak and is awaiting clarity on the characterisation of the behaviour of the virus, including the severity of the infection, and the level of transmissibility. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, CARPHA is recommending that member states be proactive and vigilant. They must reinforce surveillance measures at points of entry, communication strategies which emphasize good hand hygiene, and measures targeted at reducing the importation of this new virus to our shores.”

The health agency said in the event that there is a suspected imported case of 2019-nCoV in the region, it has already made arrangements with partner public health agencies for testing within the next three weeks, while it awaits delivery of necessary supplies.