STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
ON THURSDAY 20TH FEBRUARY, 2020
Coronavirus Disease COVID-19
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses like the common cold that can progress to more severe and fatal infections such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world. At the end of 2019 new strain of coronavirus was detected in Wuhan City, China and later named coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19) by the World Health Organisation (WHO). On January 30, 2020 the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
It is not yet clear how easily COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person. However, from studying previous human coronaviruses (e.g. SARS and MERS) it is known that they typically spread through the air by coughing and sneezing and the incubation period is 2-14 days before signs of the disease is evident. Typical signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and a cough that may progress to severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Generally, more severe symptoms occur in persons with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long term conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease.
Currently, there is no specific treatment or anti-viral drug available for COVID-19. Supportive treatment is provided based on the patient’s clinical condition.
Although several organizations are currently working on a COVID-19 vaccine, it is quite possible that the vaccine might not be ready in time to combat this epidemic. As such, the Ministry of Health and Social Development continues to closely monitor the outbreak of the respiratory illness caused by this virus.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development has adapted a multifold approach to reduce the risk of the possible impact of COVID-19:
- Under the leadership of the Chief Medical Officer, the Public Health and Environmental Health units have been closely monitoring the situation and working with international, regional and local partners to respond to this emerging public health threat.
- On January 24, 2020, an emergency surveillance meeting was held with local health officials and health care providers to discuss updates on the virus, protocols, responses and protective measures.
- On the same date, the BVI issued updated travel guidance for China, recommending that travellers avoid all nonessential travel to all of the affected countries (Level 2 Travel Health Notice).
- On Tuesday 28th January, 2020 the Ministry of Health activated the Quarantine Authority to better provide on-going support to the COVID-19 response.
- Going forward there will be increased screening at all Ports-of-Entry to detect probable cases and distribute material to all arriving passengers. Port officials will monitor travellers, and those with symptoms compatible with COVID-19 infection will be referred to the BVI Health Services Authority for evaluation.
- At the same time, ALL arriving passengers who have travelled to China and other affected countries within the last 14 days are to be given a Travel Health Alert Notice, and be subject to health surveillance and isolation. Through intense inquiry by Immigration officers they will be required to fill out a questionnaire about their travel, possible signs and symptoms and contact information. Persons showing signs and symptoms or a respiratory infection with travel history from an affected country will be quarantined and subjected to further screening and testing.
- The use of thermal imaging technology will be implemented at the ports to facilitate detection of cases. Non-contact hand-held thermometers will be used to check passengers’ temperature to determine if they have a fever.
- Enhanced monitoring and surveillance will assist the Ministry with tracking disease trends, forecasting spread, investigating cases and ensuring that the public, including travelers, get the right information about what to do if they become ill.
- Enhanced Health Services Preparedness and Response measures in relation to threat.
- Provision of timely, accurate educational material to the public and widespread hygiene promotion using various channels and targeted media to reach multiple communities.
- Increased local multi-sectorial collaboration, data sharing and training of personnel.
- For example, healthcare professionals have received advice covering initial detection and investigation of possible cases, infection prevention and control, and clinical diagnostics so they are well prepared to advise or assist anyone who is suspected of having COVID-19.
- Increased regional and international collaboration:
- PAHO/WHO, Public Health England and CARPHA have shared protocols to treat and/or manage cases of imported infections, and stand ready to assist.
- Guidance and training of front-line personnel on hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene/cough etiquette is being provided. The necessary training has also been conducted for all custodial workers at the Ports of Entry.
- The Environmental Health Division will carry out continual inspections at the airport and sea ports and cleaning processes will be assessed regularly.
The Government of British Virgin Islands acknowledges and applauds the efforts made by the Government of the People’s Republic of China and has carefully considered the advice of the World Health Organization. Despite our continued belief, based on risk assessments that the Territory remains at low risk for transmission, in light of the accelerated rate of reported cases and the need to alleviate the apprehension of residents within the Territory, enhanced measures are being taken to minimize the risk to the residents of the British Virgin Islands.
However, Mister Speaker, it is important to note that due to the incubation period of the virus, there are no systems of checks, devices or protocols that can offer absolute protection. The Ministry therefore strongly recommends that BVI residents avoid all non-essential travel to China and to other countries affected by the COVID-19.
Affected countries in addition to China include Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, France, The UK, South Korea, Vietnam, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan and the USA. Some persons may only show symptoms 14 days after exposure to an infected person. As such, members of the public are advised to remain vigilant and observe good personal hygiene practices such as washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are sick and remain at home if you are ill.
Thank you Mister Speaker.