A medical worker in a protective suit helps a couple outside a hospital in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province on Thursday, Jan 30, 2020. China counted 170 deaths from a new virus on Thursday and more countries reported infections, including some spread locally, as foreign evacuees from China’s worst-hit region returned home to medical observation and even isolation.

Travellers coming to T&T from China will have to wait 14 days to enter this country after leaving China. That restriction is being placed on people who live in China or are visiting there.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced the measure to cut the transmission of the mysterious coronavirus yesterday. He said Cabinet had accepted a suggestion for the restriction which will be implemented as soon as certain legal provisions are completed and will apply to anyone coming to T&T from China regardless of nationality.

Deyalsingh said, “If for instance, you left China on February 1, you won’t be allowed entry until February 14. The 14-day period is because the incubation period for the coronavirus is 14 days—this is how you interrupt transmission of this virus.”

The minister announced the move just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) deemed the coronavirus an international public health emergency. However, he said he didn’t see the situation as a “reasonable” threat to Carnival.

Deyalsingh said the coronavirus, which first arose in Wuhan, China, is now in 22 countries with 7,800 infected. To date, 170 deaths have been reported.

“The mortality rate is 2.4 per cent. That is, for every 100 people getting it 2.4 per cent will die,” he explained. “To halt transmission, Hong Kong, for instance, has cut air and sea connections to China. Russia has closed land borders to China. British Airways, Lufthansa and other airlines have cancelled flights to China, so even if you want to leave China, you can’t do so easily,”

Deyalsingh said in T&T 256 flights involving 18,588 people have so far been screened and no sign of fever have been found to date.

He said relying on Health Ministry and WHO experts, Cabinet was yesterday informed of the travel restriction suggestion. He said there is precedent for this as T&T had issued visas restrictions in 2014 for five African countries during the Ebola outbreak.

The minister said the current restriction plan requires a legal notice to be approved in Parliament. This will allow the chief immigration officer to implement the restriction. The Health Ministry will also designate the coronavirus as a dangerous infectious disease as was done with Ebola. Once legalities are completed, the restriction will be in force almost immediately.

Deyalsingh added that each country has to do its risk assessment “and take whatever measures they feel necessary in the best interest of its population.”

Responding to questions about the impact of the move on Chinese workers involved in the Curepe Interchange, PoS Central Block and Tobago airport terminal projects, Deyalsingh said, “Chinese workers already in Trinidad and Tobago will continue work. The main aim of this measure is to protect Trinidad and Tobago citizens. This is a health emergency, so any minor interruption in construction projects … when you do the cost-benefit analysis, it’s more beneficial for the Government to be very proactive in protecting its local population and everyone living here even if it means at the expense of delays in some projects, if there are going to be delays.”

Asked whether the global mood and T&T’s travel restriction would cause loss of Carnival revenue, Deyalsingh, reiterating Government’s responsibility to protect citizens, said the United States and the United Kingdom are T&T’s biggest but the US only has five coronavirus cases and the UK less.

“Carnival will go on unless something drastic happens,” he said.

Deyalsingh assured that T&T has full capacity to deal with any cases of suspected or possible coronavirus. He said there are isolation areas at hospitals, Caura and will have more with the old COSTAATT building in Port-of-Spain currently being retrofitted.

“And we have all the drugs needed. The health system is more than capable to deal with any eventuality,” he said.