NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Two Bahamian students returning from areas affected by the novel coronavirus in China were quarantined yesterday.
Officials have assured that there has been no suspected, reported or confirmed case of the respiratory illness in The Bahamas.
Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands has confirmed that some 160 Bahamians are currently in China.
The Chinese government has locked down Wuhan City, the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei Province of China.
In efforts to prevent the outbreak from spreading, The Bahamas government has implemented an immediate ban, restricting all travel from China to The Bahamas amidst the global outbreak.
The ban does not include the restriction of trade from China.
“Effective immediately, any non-resident regardless of nationality who has visited China in the last 20 days will be denied entry into the country,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillan, during a press conference at the Ministry of Health.
“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.”
While countries like the United States have issued “do not travel” warnings to its citizens, the ministry recommended that persons who must travel in that region, should “take precautions to protect themselves by avoiding direct contact with sick people and products that come from animals”.
She echoed that all persons returning to The Bahamas from China will be quarantined.
Sands said:, “Quarantine is going to require separation of individuals.
“It’s very important for people to understand, especially as Bahamians return to The Bahamas, that you will not be allowed to interact with your family, your mother, your grammy, ect. because if you do, they will be put in quarantine as well.
“This is not going to be a situation where there is loose or flexible movement.”
Governments worldwide have been airlifting their citizens out of the epicenter of the outbreak.
Officials say there are nine Bahamians undergoing higher level studies in Wuhan.
However, as the schools are on break, only five students are currently in that city.
“We do have a schedule,” Sands noted.
“We have been working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…We have been in constant communication with not just students but other human nationals and they are being advised to let us know when they are planning on arriving and once they arrive…they will be quarantine.”
He said while the government will welcome citizens home, “there is no specific program to repatriate” Bahamians currently in China.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday declared the outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern”, noting that the greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems and are ill-prepared to deal with the crisis.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” Ghebreyesus said.
“On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.
He further advised against limiting trade and movement, indicating that “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade”.
Asked why the government decided to go against the advice of WHO, Representative of the Pan American Health Organization Dr. Esther De Gourville said, “sovereign nations can make decisions that protect the health of their citizens.”
De Gourville explained that in the case of The Bahamas, “There is concern about the ability to quickly diagnose infection and implement containment.
“…Several countries in the world are currently unable to detect and respond to the virus.
“The declaration of an international emergency of international concern really allows an opportunity for countries with weak surveillance systems, weak clinical management systems, to be assisted to respond to this virus.”
There have been five previously declared global public health emergencies including H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009, Polio in 2014, Zika in 2016 and Ebola in 2014 and 2016.
According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, as of late last night, there has been over 200 deaths and over 9,700 confirmed cases of the virus, of which some 9,600 are on mainland China.
Common signs of coronavirus infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
However, in more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe respiratory distress, kidney failure and even death.
De Gourville noted, “Review of the clinical records of these complicated cases and fatal cases reveal that the majority of those persons had underlying serious health conditions, such as diabetes and heart conditions and other complications.”
The United States on Thursday recorded its first person-to-person transfer of the virus in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A Chicago woman, who was recently diagnosed with the illness after her travels to China, transferred it to her husband.