BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday March 2, 2020 – The Caribbean can no longer say it is Coronavirus (COVID-19)-free, with confirmation of six cases in three countries – the Dominican Republic, St Maarten and St Barthélemy.
Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne made the disclosure last night after CARICOM Heads of Government, Ministers of Health and officials of key agencies met in a special emergency session in Barbados to discuss protocols for addressing COVID-19.
Speaking via video-conference during the meeting, Dr Etienne said there were three cases in the Dominican Republic, two in St Maarten, and one in St Barthélemy.
The first case in the region was recorded the Dominican Republic. It was an imported case – a 62-year-old Italian man who arrived on the island on February 22 and was hospitalized on Saturday. He had displayed no symptoms on his arrival to the country.
Meantime, a French couple who tested positive for the virus are in isolation in the Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital in St Martin, where they will remain for 14 days. They were leaving for Paris from the Princess Juliana International Airport located on the Dutch side of the island, St Maarten, when they were handed over to authorities because they presented symptoms of the virus.
Their son, who they were visiting in St Barthélemy, also tested positive and is confined to his home and under daily surveillance. Officials said the state of health of the three was not worrying.
A statement issued from the Office of St Maarten’s Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs yesterday stated that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has been activated to continue with the preparedness, response and mitigation measures that need to be taken, and will continue to function on a heightened level of awareness.
It added that screening processes at ports of entry have been stepped up in cooperation with the airlines which are also following their own screening protocols.
“There is no reason to panic; stay calm and take preventative hygiene measures at home, on the job, in school that have been promoted by the Ministry of Public Health for the past several weeks via the Government’s Department of Communication,” the statement said. “School boards have been requested to increase hygienic measures at schools and to maintain these at a high level; front line staff of businesses across the business community – customer service reps – as well as all other staff members are also requested to follow preventative measures on a daily basis.”
Meantime, two people in St Martin, who were tested after returning from holiday in the L’Oise, France, were yesterday evening found to be COVID-19-negative.
More than 89,000 people have been infected with the COVID-19 that originated in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province of Hubei, last December. The death toll has surpassed 3,000.
The PAHO Director said that with COVID-19 already in the wider region, the outlook for the CARICOM region is that “there is a high likelihood that we will see cases in the sub-region”.
And she said the World Health Organization is concerned about countries that have “weak health systems”.
Dr Etienne noted that several Caribbean countries have the capacity to test for COVID-19 – Barbados, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, Jamaica, Belize, The Bahamas, Haiti, Martinique, French Guiana, Curacao, Aruba and St Martin, Cayman Islands and Bermuda.
“We believe that there is some capacity in the region but there is work that is necessary to ensure maximum capacity in the Caribbean region,” she said, adding that PAHO’s work in the region is to strengthen member states capacity to detect, to contain and to manage cases.
Confirmation of the Coronavirus cases in the region came just days after the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) warned that with transmission of the virus reported in territories with direct flights to Caribbean states, risk of the virus reaching the region’s shores had increased to “moderate to high”.
In light of the increased risk of importation of the virus to the region, CARPHA Executive Director Dr Joy St John had urged health authorities of CARPHA member states to shift their mindset from preparedness to readiness and rapid response, and continue to do all that is necessary to strengthen their capacity to respond to possible importation of cases.
She also encouraged them to increase their capacity for surveillance and to adapt their national pandemic preparedness plans to the current situation with COVID-19, as a matter of urgency.