Commuters wear face masks as a precaution against the COVID-19 illness inside a subway station during rush hour in Hong Kong, Japan, yesterday. The virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health organisation yesterday.

Rishard Khan

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Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh says T&T has always been ahead of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in preparation for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). He made the comment in a brief telephone interview yesterday, hours after the WHO’s declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.

At a roundtable discussion with T&T journalists at the Hilton Trinidad in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) officials said WHO’s declaration allows certain political and legal opportunities for countries, giving them the needed resources and room to fight the virus. This was ongoing when the WHO director-general made the announcement yesterday.

“To declare a pandemic also has political undertones to it, where a country can activate certain protocols and laws can also be activated when a pandemic is declared,” CARPHA consultant, communicable diseases and emergency response Dr Stephanie Fletcher-Lartey said.

She explained this could mean “establishing a state of emergency. The government might be able to commandeer resources. The government now has that legal platform in which they are able to make certain decisions above and beyond what they can normally do on a normal day-to-day basis.”

However, confident about T&T’s preparation for any possible outbreak during a telephone interview hours later, Deyalsingh said: “WHO’s announcement does nothing to alter our heightened vigilance and heightened state of preparedness, including financing. It simply reinforces in my mind that we were doing the right thing all along.”

Regionally, CARPHA assistant director Dr Lisa Indar indicated that the declaration would now allow them to “speak to our international partners and say ‘okay now we need more resources to help strengthen country capacity.’”

Indar also indicated that the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Caribbean region remain imported cases (from incoming travellers).

During a press conference yesterday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus cited the rising number of cases worldwide and their predictions as the reason for the upgrade to pandemic status.

“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic,” he said.

He stressed that “all countries can still change the course of this pandemic” if they “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response.”

The most recent confirmation of a COVID-19 case was in Jamaica, which confirmed its second case yesterday to be a US Embassy employee who had returned from the United Kingdom.

On Tuesday, Jamaica had its first confirmed case of the virus – a female patient who had travelled there from the UK.

Quick Facts on COVID-19

* According to a John Hopkins University study, over 50% of Covid-19 patients recover from the illness.

* Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention: 81% of Covid-19 cases are mild. Under 14% are severe and 5% are critical.

* The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 3.4% of cases result in death.

* The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) says the risk to the Caribbean region is “Moderate to High”

* The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus is not an airborne virus therefore N-95 masks won’t prevent infection. Masks are worn in Covid-19 affected countries to prevent those infected from spreading the virus.

* The World Health Organisation(WHO), among other international experts, maintains washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your face and to limit physical contact with others as the best way to prevent transmission.