Barbados has blocked a tanker carrying two crew members with Ebola-like symptoms from berthing at the Bridgetown Port.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy made the disclosure in Parliament this evening, as he insisted that the Ebola threat was not only a health matter but a national security issue.
Although he did not state when the vessel had been prevented from entering the port, or where it had originated, Sealy said the action by Barbadian authorities proved that the systems put in place to prevent the virus from reaching these shores were working.
“There was a tanker, the Noble Spirit, that when the protocols were tested, was actually denied entry into Barbados waters. There were two persons on board who had symptoms that were deemed to be Ebola-like and on the basis of the various protocols the port managers, national security, defence and security [officials], immigration, and the Office of the Prime Minister, we were able to say ‘no thank you’. I think they were already refused a berthing spot in Jamaica,” Sealy revealed.
He insisted that there was no reason for Barbados to follow some of its Caribbean neighbours by instituting a ban on nationals from the worst affected West African nations.
Instead, he said, authorities had decided to take a measured, sensible approach to the situation and to devise the appropriate protocols.
“We have decided not to go that route. That is a bit extremist and not at all sensible thinking because if you start, how do you stop? If you go and identify three countries in West Africa where there are Ebola cases and ban travel from there, what happens when you have a couple of cases in the United Kingdom? Are we going to shut down the UK source market and ban travel from there too? It doesn’t make sense and we, therefore, have gone the route of putting the appropriate protocols in place.”
Sealy said Ebola transcends health and was being viewed by the Freundel Stuart administration as a national security matter.
As such, he said, a committee dealing specifically with the virus had been established, quarantine centres at both ports of entry were upgraded and an isolation unit had also been set up on the grounds of the Enmore Centre.
“Government has been taking the Ebola question extremely serious and, in fact, has not been treating it as a public health issue exclusively. Far from that, the National Security Council was convened. That body is chaired by the Prime Minister. It has met twice on this issue as far back as August 19. The member for St Michael South chaired that meeting on August 19. I chaired the second meeting in September when I was acting in [the capacity of Prime Minister]. Prior to that August 19 meeting, the national security review committee actually met on August 8,” he said.
Earlier this month, there was an Ebola scare aboard the cruise ship Carnival Magic that was denied entry into Belize and Mexico. The vessel was blocked because of the presence of a lab worker at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan – a Liberian who died from the virus in the US state earlier this month – had been treated. The worker was subsequently declared Ebola free.
Sealy said cruise lines had also developed their own protocols to deal with Ebola.
He said with the cruise season approaching, Barbadian authorities were working with Cruise Lines International Association, CLIA, and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association “because they too have a lot at stake”.
“When you invest $1 billion in a cruise ship you can’t just allow an Ebola outbreak on board. So they have a vested interest, as well, in working with us insofar as ensuring that that industry remains Ebola-free.”
More than 4,500 people have already died from Ebola.
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