Not for the first time, Barbados looks on with piqued interest at unfolding developments as some of the world’s big countries battle to stave off a global pandemic.
It may appear miles from our doorstep, but it would be foolhardy not to prepare as best we can for the arrival of the 2019 novel coronavirus.
This coronavirus strain, first discovered in Wuhan, China, on December 31 in a seafood market, is now defying borders, claiming lives and sickening hundreds.
Here’s what we know so far.
In China, 18 people have died and at least 634 have been infected across five cities now on lockdown.
Two people have tested positive in Hong Kong, Thailand has detected two cases, so too has Vietnam, while authorities in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have each detected one case. In this hemisphere, the Pacific state of Washington in the United States has also confirmed one case.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
Symptoms include respiratory ailments, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
But even as the virus gains momentum, airports ramp up screening and scientists try to better understand the mysterious illness, and Gilead Sciences Inc assesses whether its experimental Ebola treatment could be used to treat the coronavirus infection, the World Health Organisation today determined that the SARS-like virus is not yet a global health emergency.
“Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO.
The WHO chief added that he wouldn’t hesitate to convene another meeting in the near future to deliberate on whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency.
He urged countries to be ready but stopped short of recommending any travel or trade restrictions at this time, instead suggesting people take precautions like making sure their hands are clean and that they don’t cough on others if they’re sick.
But experts remain concerned that the virus, which can easily be transmitted from human to human, has the potential for widespread transmission and there will be more cases around the world.
We hope not, for the impact would be devastating,
Here at home, authorities have signalled there is no need to panic even as preparations get started to ensure the virus is kept at bay.
We should feel assured that our officials are capable of managing events such as these as they have done with the SARS outbreak in 2003-04, Zika and Chikungunya.
Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic assured yesterday: “There is no direct threat at this point in time to Barbados, but we are treating it as though there is because the potential is there.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George has assured that all ports of entry are on alert and the protocol would require anyone travelling to Barbados who has symptoms to be quarantined at the hospital.
Still, the best defence against any virus remains good hygiene – proper handwashing, the use of hand sanitiser, covering your nose when sneezing and using disposal tissues.
In the meantime, let us continue to be vigilant and ever keep in mind that threats are always lurking.
We might not be able to stop this or any disease’s entry into our island but should it find us unprepared, mindlessly engaging in poor hygiene, and our health authorities asleep at the wheel, we can be sure that hundreds perhaps thousands more may be in serious danger.