Govt steps up entry screening against coronavirus

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 11:30

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a pilot wearing a protective suit parks a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Hong Kong’s leader announced Tuesday that all rail links to mainland China will be cut starting Friday as fears grow about the spread of a new virus. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)

Cheng Min

Gov­ern­ment’s lat­est step to pre­vent the en­try of coro­n­avirus in­to this coun­try has been to con­tact the lo­cal agents of all cruise lin­ers to en­sure ramp­ing-up of ques­tion­naires for pas­sen­gers on their health, Health Min­is­ter Ter­rence Deyals­ingh has con­firmed.


“The ma­jor point of con­cern (among ports) is the port of Port-of-Spain where cruise lin­ers come in,” Deyals­ingh said yes­ter­day.

He was re­ply­ing to Op­po­si­tion queries on mea­sures to deal with the mys­te­ri­ous coro­n­avirus which arose in Chi­na re­cent­ly.

So far 106 peo­ple in Chi­na have been killed and 4,520 in­fect­ed.

Ger­many yes­ter­day re­port­ed its first case.

The US and Cana­da have ad­vised cit­i­zens to avoid all non-es­sen­tial trav­el to Chi­na.

Deyals­ingh said: “We have to try to bal­ance be­tween pan­ic and cau­tion. The last thing you want is a pan­icked pop­u­la­tion. The chances of this reach­ing T&T while re­mote, needs to be treat­ed se­ri­ous­ly and we’re do­ing that.”

Gov­ern­ment has in­stalled ther­mal-screen­ing at the air­ports for pas­sen­gers on ar­riv­ing flights in­clud­ing from North Amer­i­ca, Pana­ma and the UK. To date, 194 flights have been screened—14,380 pas­sen­gers and crew.

Deyals­ingh said hand-held screen­ing de­vices are lo­cat­ed at both ends of Pi­ar­co air­port. Elec­tron­ic bill­boards which were in­stalled ad­vise peo­ple com­ing from cer­tain parts of the world and have a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture, what they should do if they sus­pect ill­ness. Air­ports have stan­dards on how to treat with peo­ple with body tem­per­a­ture over 37.2 de­grees.

Deyals­ingh said ther­mal screen­ing de­vices have al­so been in­sti­tut­ed at the ports of Ch­aguara­mas, Port-of-Spain, King’s Wharf and Ce­dros. He said cruise lin­er crews must fill out de­c­la­ra­tions on pas­sen­gers on whether they have fevers or any oth­er ill­ness­es.

He said cruise ships usu­al­ly orig­i­nate from Mi­a­mi and Puer­to Ri­co and a ques­tion­naire which must be filled out be­fore board­ing ap­plies to all pas­sen­gers com­ing to the Caribbean and end­ing up in T&T. That process is be­ing ramped up,” he added.

So there’s a first, ini­tial pre-board­ing screen­ing where they have to an­swer ques­tions—that’s how we’re man­ag­ing the port of PoS.”

“But the chances of coro­n­avirus com­ing in through cruise ships are even more re­mote. You have to pay at­ten­tion to air­craft flights orig­i­nat­ing with pas­sen­gers from Chi­na. Most cruis­es com­ing to T&T would typ­i­cal­ly not have peo­ple who start­ed their jour­ney in Chi­na,” he said.

He said there’s a mul­ti-lay­er of ther­mal screen­ing of pas­sen­gers orig­i­nat­ing in Chi­na since they’re screened at air­ports where they get con­nect­ing flights, adding that screen­ing isn’t fool­proof as peo­ple could have no signs of fever.

Deyals­ingh said lo­cal air­ports have iso­la­tion ar­eas if a pas­sen­ger is sus­pect­ed of hav­ing coro­n­avirus—hav­ing a tem­per­a­ture above 37.2 de­grees and a trav­el his­to­ry in­volv­ing Chi­na. They’ll be as­sessed to see if quar­an­tine is re­quired. He said gowns, gloves and masks—trap­ping 95 per cent of pathogens—are be­ing dis­trib­uted through health au­thor­i­ties to health work­ers in the ef­fort.

Mean­while health of­fi­cials have de­nied ru­mours that two per­sons were screened at Cau­ra Hos­pi­tal for coro­n­avirus.

“I can say cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly that is not true,” CEO of the North Cen­tral Re­gion­al Health Au­thor­i­ty, Davlin Thomas said yes­ter­day.

As of yes­ter­day, over 13,000 pas­sen­gers and crew, from near­ly 200 flights have been screened dur­ing the ther­mal screen­ing ex­er­cise at Pi­ar­co.

How­ev­er, these mea­sures are all part of the coun­try’s In­fec­tious Dis­ease Pro­to­col to de­tect and quick­ly iso­late per­sons who are ex­hibit­ing symp­toms of any in­fec­tious dis­ease

In the case of Pi­ar­co In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port, screened pas­sen­gers who re­quire fur­ther as­sess­ment or even iso­la­tion are tak­en to the Cau­ra Hos­pi­tal.

Two per­sons were sent to the fa­cil­i­ty yes­ter­day, for tests on H1N1 and Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

A $250,000 Iso­la­tion Unit, com­mis­sioned in 2014 dur­ing the Ebo­la cri­sis, was ac­ti­vat­ed on Tues­day, Jan­u­ary 21, 2020.

The unit has a ster­il­i­sa­tion room at the en­trance where med­ical work­ers will get dressed in reusable haz­mat out­fits.

There is a plas­tic cov­ered en­trance lead­ing to the white iso­lat­ed rooms, each about the size of a small bed­room, equipped with a bed, wash­room, and a small ta­ble.

There is al­so a sep­a­rate room that leads to the back of the build­ing where health work­ers are sani­tised be­fore un­dress­ing.


Reporter: Gail Alexander