Although the deadly coronavirus poses no “direct threat” to Barbados, healthcare officials are leaving no stones unturned in a bid to keep it out, announcing fresh plans to tighten controls at the country’s main ports of entry and improve protocols at the leading healthcare facility.
Healthcare officials on Monday revealed that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) had been stockpiling its supplies with extra gloves, face masks and medical gowns as they pursue an appropriate response to the illness which started in China but has now spread to 12 countries.
Meanwhile at the ports of entry, all persons who have made recent visits to China will receive mandatory interviews and rigorous screening.
In fact, officials from immigration, customs, and baggage handling have all been named among those on the frontline of Barbados’ response to the threat and according to Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George they will be receiving key information in the coming days to assist them.
“We believe all those frontline persons need to have information for action and there are even part of our frontline surveillance process because these are the eyes and ears of the opening to the country. It is important that if they see something, they would be able to report something,” the CMO revealed.
He explained: “All persons who have visited China must be interviewed and then we will make a determination on whether they are at risk or not. If they are not at risk, we will monitor them for 14 days. If they are, we will decide if they will be admitted or take other appropriate steps.”
Unfortunately, Barbados’ northern ports remain exposed, without resident public nurses to screen those entering the island. According to the Minister of Health and Wellness, Colonel Jeffrey Bostic and the CMO this is because the two ports only attract two to three per cent of the total number of people entering the country.
Dr George however added: “We haven’t forgotten them, but we are putting our resources at the most likely places where a virus would enter Barbados, which is through the airport first and then secondly through the seaport in Bridgetown. Port St. Charles would be way behind.”
The disclosures were made after the CMO, the health minister, Executive Director of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Juliett Bynoe Sutherland and QEH Head of Infection Control, Dr. Corey Forde toured the Infectious Disease Facility at Martindale’s Road, St. Michael.
According to Dr. Forde, the building, which initially was prepared to respond to the Ebola outbreak some years ago has been retrofitted with very “unique” rooms and can accommodate six patients.
He added that key information from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) prior to the announcement of an outbreak allowed hospital officials to significantly increase their stock of important materials to treat the virus if the need arose.
Although the risk is low, he explained that hospital employees were being trained for any eventuality.
In addition, Dr. George said officials are so concerned about transmission that they are currently making inquiries about the price of information needed to facilitate testing for the disease.
“These things are new, and at the moment, the only countries that could test are countries with tremendous resources including the United Kingdom, France etcetera.
“But we have reached out to find out how expensive the kits are and how much it would cost the government of Barbados because we have the facilities to test,” explained Dr. George.
Earlier in the day, the health ministry in a statement urged Barbadians to avoid ‘non-essential’ travel to Hubei Province in China, including its capital, Wuhan, where the virus originated.