Press Statement on The Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov)

by Dr. Pearl McMillan, Chief Medical Officer, The Bahamas Ministry of Health

Bahamas Coat of Arms

30 January 2020

5:00 A.M.
 

STATUS OF NOVEL CORONAVIRUS IN THE BAHAMAS

Yesterday the Minister of Health advised the Bahamian people about the status of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV as it relates to The Bahamas. As of today, 30th January, 2020, there have been no suspected, reported or confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in The Bahamas. The Ministry of Health has been following the guidance of international partners, WHO, PAHO, CARPHA and CDC ensuring that our borders, health agencies and all stakeholders are prepared to respond in the event we are faced with a case. This situation is evolving, and today, after the second meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee, the World Health Organization has declared the new corona virus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

There have been only five previously declared global public health emergencies: H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009, Polio in 2014, Zika in 2016 and Ebola in 2014 and 2016.

CURRENT STATUS UPDATE

The data reported on the Novel Coronavirus as of today, using The Johns Hopkins School of Public Heath Chinese Coronavirus Dashboard, in real time, is 8,235 confirmed cases of the Novel Coronavirus of which 8,124 are on mainland China. Currently, there are 171 deaths.

PREPARATION IN THE BAHAMAS

Building on the foundations of our preparedness efforts for SARS, H1N1 and even Ebola, the Ministry of Health is able to promptly jump into action to prepare for 2019 n-CoV and has been meeting and planning our response from early last week.

The leaders and technical staff of the Ministry of Health have met, were briefed and tasked with responsibilities to ensure that necessary measures are in place to monitor, detect and contain the spread of this virus if it reaches our shores.

We are also working closely with all government departments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to ensure we have a coordinated and effective response. The Ministry has hosted a series of 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV) sensitization meetings with our internal and external stakeholders and have met with representatives from Tourism, Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD), Civil Aviation, Border Control, Customs, Immigration and the Royal Bahamas Police Force. We have on going briefings with the Prime Minister.

This morning the Attorney General and the Minister of State for Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration; Permanent Secretaries of the Office of the Prime Minister, Tourism and Aviation, Transport and Local Government; the Director Generals of Tourism and Foreign Affairs; the Comptroller of Customs, along with other Senior officials from the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, and Immigration met with the Minister and Permanent

Secretary of Health and other health officers met to discuss the the 2019 Coronavirus (2019 nCoV). An initial draft of our preparedness and response plan was also distributed. Based on interventions during the meeting, we will be revising the Plan and finalizing with wider distribution tomorrow.

The Ministry of Health is also in constant contact with our WHO and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) partners to receive ongoing notifications about the virus, its impact and to receive technical assistance to fine tune our response efforts. We were fortunate to have the PAHO/WHO representative for The Bahamas at our meeting as well a teleconference with the Director of the Pan American Health Organization during our meeting. The Ministry is also liaising and collaborating with members of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for regional preparedness, testing and laboratory recommendations. Consultation with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is also ongoing.

TRAVEL AND TRADE

Following the Level 3 travel advisory issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concerning the recent Coronavirus outbreak in China, along with travel restrictions in France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Jamaica and other sovereign nations, the Government of The Bahamas has implemented border control and quarantine measures, restricting all travel from China to The Bahamas. Effective immediately, any non-resident regardless of nationality who has visited China in the last 20 days will be denied entry into the country. All residents returning to The Bahamas will be strictly quarantined and monitored for development of symptoms for the duration of the incubation period with a maximum of 14 days.

The WHO’s current recommendation is against non-essential travel for persons to China at this time. The Ministry of Health, therefore, recommends that persons who MUST travel in that region, take precautions to protect themselves by avoiding direct contact with sick people and products that come from animals. Be diligent, pay attention and equip yourself with travel advisory information related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus before you travel. If during, or after your travel, symptoms of respiratory illness are experienced, you are encouraged to immediately contact a medical provider who will guide you as to your next steps. Be ready to give your full travel history to health care providers. As mentioned, all persons returning to The Bahamas from China will be quarantined.

As the information pertaining to this coronavirus is constantly being updated, the Ministry of Health is ensuring that the public remains informed via traditional and social media. The aim is to provide families and all citizens of The Bahamas with the necessary information to protect their well-being. Please ensure that you are receiving your information from credible and reliable sources.

Ongoing surveillance of our borders is critical. Monitoring at all our ports in New Providence and the Family Islands have been enhanced via multiagency collaborations. Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) and other major ports of entry are linked to our National Communicable Disease Surveillance Unit via a twenty-four-hour port surveillance officer contact. The Ministry of Health has confirmed that we have ample quantities of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the front line staff, and the capacity for laboratory testing is in place.

I would like to reiterate that currently, there have been no suspected, reported or confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in The Bahamas.

Common signs of infection with this virus involve respiratory symptoms including -

  • fever;
  • cough;
  • shortness of breath; and • breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, infection can cause:

  • pneumonia;
  • severe respiratory distress; • kidney failure; and
  • even death.

Standard recommendations to prevent the spread of this infection include:

  • frequent, proper hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer;

  • covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing

    preferably with the elbow and sleeve;

  • thoroughly cooking meat and eggs; and

  • avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of

    respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
     

TREATMENT

Currently, a vaccine has not yet been developed for the prevention of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Therefore, treatment is focused on symptoms.

THE WAY FORWARD

Ongoing staff briefings across all stakeholder agencies with regular updates to ensure swift identification, diagnosis and management of a suspected case is assured. Additional meetings with other health and stakeholder agencies are planned.

Tomorrow, the Ministry of Health will be meeting with the US border control, airline operators, Nassau Flight Services and Bahamas Immigration and Customs.

In the coming days, it is expected that the officials from the Ministry of Health will be meeting with fixed based aviation operations such as Odyssey, Executive Flight Support Services (Jet Aviation) and Phoenix Aviation.

It is also the intention of the Ministry to meet with Family Island Administrators, customs and immigration officers, doctors and nurses on the islands of Grand Bahama, San Salvador, Exuma and Andros via videoconferencing. These meetings are part of the ongoing effort to update personnel on the frontline and citizens on the Family Islands about the Novel Coronavirus.

Please be assured that the Ministry of Health is ready to ensure the health protection of all residents and visitors to The Bahamas. Our aim is to be prepared for whatever potential health emergencies that come to our shores and to limit the effect on our population.