The risk of the novel coronavirus nCoV-2019 appearing on Trinidad and Tobago shores is relatively low, compared with other places.
But Dr Vishwanath Partapsingh, Principal Medical Officer at the Health Ministry, says while there is no need to panic, the country cannot afford to be complacent.
On a larger scale, Dr Partapsingh says the screening systems are extremely detailed to determine travellers’ possible exposure to nCov-2019, once they are coming from countries of interest.
“When you look at the exit screening of those coming out of these ports, it is quite intense,” he explains. “There is a temperature scanning. There is also the exposure history ascertained: ‘Did you travel or go to a market with live animals? Did you have any live animals? Did you come into contact with anyone who displayed any of the symptoms?’ That is the base of the screening.”
He adds: “When you look at the cases in the other countries outside of mainland China, the cases all had a direct exposure history—either travel to or had a direct, close contact with someone who was confirmed with a case.”
However, according to Dr Partapsingh, reducing risk ultimately comes down to each person practising good hygiene at all times, especially when coughing and sneezing, and most importantly—frequently washing one’s hands with soap and water.
He also warns about cross contamination for those using masks and gloves to protect themselves from possible infection.
“You have a mask on; you think all is well. You have gloves on; you think all is well. But then you’re on the phone. You have the pen. You touch the passport. You adjust the mask. And so, you have the potential to cross contaminate for any virus or any sort of pathogen that comes in,” he points out. “Hand washing is key. Maintaining a distance with someone who you know is sneezing and coughing is key.”
And Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, Chief Immigration Officer, says all front line officers at the air and sea ports, must practice good personal hygiene themselves, to reduce their risk.
In addition, she says officers must take—and are taking—the necessary precautions with the wearing of face masks, gloves and using hand sanitiser, to reduce their risk to any disease, including the novel coronavirus.
Hundreds of masks and gloves for officers’ use are expected to be delivered today, to ensure they continue to remain protected.
The Chief Immigration Officer also told us they’re alerted right away—via advance passenger information from airlines—which passengers originate from China.
However, she says some persons have more complicated travel itineraries, and immigration officials will be able to deduce their origin during the interview and by looking at all their travel documents and passports.
“We had one such case yesterday and that passenger was returned to their port of entry,” she reports. “They were screened by port health; there was no issue. However, because of the travel ban, that person was returned to their port of embarkation.”
The CIO Ghandi-Andrews says citizens and permanent residents of this country cannot be refused entry back home. However, she says they will be screened, and possibly even quarantined, if they have returned from a country of interest for the virus, and pose a potential infection risk.
Last week, cabinet announced a travel restriction of 14 days for people of any nationality, coming to t-and-t from china.
They will need to wait 14 days after they’ve left China, to enter this country.
In addition, anyone living in or visiting china who slips through this country’s 14 day travel restriction and enters T&T, may be subject to quarantine.
Story by JESSIE-MAY VENTOUR