This coronavirus is a serious thing!


This coronavirus is a serious thing!

Monday, January 27, 2020

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The Caribbean has reason to be concerned about the outbreak of the coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China as that Asian country sees the region as a source of tourist and business traffic.

We recall that in 2017, Mr Xu Jing, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's regional director for Asia and the Pacific, urged Caribbean countries to tap into the billions of dollars spent by Chinese travellers annually by utilising digital platforms such as WeChat.

At the time, data showed that just under 50,000 Chinese had visited the Caribbean in 2016. Of that number, approximately 40,000 went to Cuba, while Jamaica attracted just under 4,000.

Jamaica Tourist Board statistics revealed that in 2018 Chinese visitors to Jamaica numbered 3,431— a decrease of 11.8 per cent from the previous year. That, we expect, is due mostly to the unavailability of direct flights.

However, that does not diminish the fact that many Jamaicans travel to China each year — either for business or recreation. Plus, a number of Chinese come to this country to work, especially on infrastructure projects for which Chinese companies are contracted.

Against that background, we note the advisory by the Ministry of Health and Wellness last week that it has begun the sensitisation of key stakeholders to ensure optimised operational readiness for the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, travellers to Jamaica can expect vigilant airport screening — from thermal scanning to data collection of appropriate travel history, signs and symptoms of respiratory illness, and any history of contact with a confirmed case or anyone having fever and respiratory symptoms.

The ministry also advised that any suspected case of the virus will trigger a cascade of activities, including notification of the various levels of the health system and preparation of receiving facilities, as well as the mobilisation of required resources.

At a more regional level, the Pan American Health Organization has urged countries in the Americas to be prepared to detect early, isolate, and care for patients infected with the coronavirus. The organisation has also assured that it stands ready to support countries in the region “because detecting cases early can prevent the spread of the disease”.

We cannot emphasise how important that is, for we are seeing what appears to be a rapid spread of this virus in China and other countries on that side of the globe. Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that his country was facing a “grave situation”. At the time of writing, the virus had killed 41 people and infected almost 1,300.

Locally, we appeal to Jamaicans to be careful, especially in the current environment of dengue fever and related illnesses. The health authorities have told us that there is no specific treatment for diseases caused by a novel coronavirus. However, many of the symptoms can be treated based on the clinical condition of patients.

Even as we hope Jamaicans will heed the advice to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, and to frequently wash their hands, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment, we expect that the health officials will remain vigilant in their effort to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus in Jamaica.

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