MOMENTS before the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the “Wuhan” coronavirus a “global health emergency” yesterday, local Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced major restrictions on passengers coming to Trinidad and Tobago from China.
Passengers originating in China must now lay-over abroad for a minimum of 14 days before they will be allowed local entry, Deyalsingh announced at the post-Cabinet news briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s.
This is now added to a series of measures implemented since last Tuesday, when the virus began to rise as a major global concern, which saw thermal screening and advanced passenger intelligence being used at Piarco International Airport and other ports of entry into T&T.
The obligatory 14-day lay-over is to accommodate the incubation period of the virus of seven to 14 days, allowing any symptoms to be detectable.
The restriction does not discrimminate on the basis of nationality but looks solely at the point of origin, in this case China.
The decision was taken by Cabinet as the Government looks to shield the population from the deadly respiratory illness, a member of the coronavirus family believed to have been transmitted via (zoonotic) animal-to-human contact in the exotic meat markets of Wuhan, China. It emerged in December but showed signs of escalating two weeks ago.
Deyalsingh noted that other countries have imposed travel restrictions in their own ways, including a complete shutdown of thousands of miles of Russia’s land border with China.
Taking no chances, the Italian government also yesterday banned passengers of a Carnival cruise ship from entering, even after a passenger tested negative for possible symptoms.
Some 7,000 people were ordered to remain on board, at port, until today, Bloomberg News reported.
Deyalsingh said the 14-day lay-over also represented the “outer limit” of the recommended period to allow for incubation and was chosen by the Government “out of an abundance of caution”.
AG crafting papers
Deyalsingh said the restrictions required some legal “niceties”, including a legal notice advising of the intended action, which were being crafted by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
One aspect of the legal process includes going before the Parliament but this does not require a majority vote, Deyalsingh said.
The measures are expected to come into “near immediate effect” on the issuance of the legal notices.
The process is not new to T&T, as it guided Government’s actions during a feared Ebola virus outbreak in 2015 that saw travel restrictions imposed on arrivals from several African countries.
The “novel coronavirus”, dubbed 2019-nCoV, will be listed as “a dangerous disease and an infectious disease”, Deyalsingh said.
He again assured that local health authorities were prepared with isolation capabilities at the Caura Chest Hospital and retro-fitted capacity at the former College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT) building in Port of Spain.
He noted that since screening began at ports of entry, 250 incoming flights have been checked and no passenger was found with possible symptoms.
Deyalsingh assured not only of this country’s capacity to cope with any cases locally but that a regional and international network was available in terms of data and support.
He gave as an example Caricom’s Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC), which is now making available prior notice of any passengers booked or bound for countries in the region with passengers from China.
The JRCC advised of a flight that may have had some 150 such passengers this week but they did not arrive, he said. Those persons may not have been allowed to fly as decided by the screening system outside of T&T but these details were not available, minister Young later stated.
Contacted following the WHO’s declaration yesterday, which included that it did not support travel bans as a means of interrupting the virus, Deyalsingh said T&T’s 14-day restriction was not in contradiction.
He said travel was not being banned as persons would be allowed entry once the fortnight had elapsed and they were not showing symptoms of the illness. He said this meant trade and travel would continue.
He emphasised that among the safest precautions one could adopt if coronavirus is suspected is early medical attention and self-imposed quarantine.
Deyalsingh again addressed concerns that the virus has jeopardised T&T Carnival 2020, set for February 24 and 25, saying the festival will occur, barring a “dramatic” turn of events regarding the virus.