Top health officials along with the leader of government Premier Easton Taylor Farrell appeared on ZJB Radio this morning to provide an update on the Montserrat’s preparedness for possible cases of the coronavirus COVID-19.
Over the course of an hour, Minister of Health Charles Kirnon, Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharra Greenaway-Duberry and Head of Patient Care and epidemiologist Dr Dorothea Hazel-Blake spoke on matters ranging from testing, the preparedness of health services for any potential outbreak and the need to remain calm and positive.
The premier noted that cases are now in our backyard. The Dominican Republic (3), St. Martin (2) and St. Barths (1) have confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, March 1 and two additional patients who had been isolated on St. Martin have come back negative for the virus.
Premier Taylor-Farrell said he had every confidence in the work of health officials and that the safety of the public was the priority. He added that the island’s tourism sector is vital to the economy and measures have to be taken to secure that aspect of life as well. He said he believed that they were doing everything possible to keep the people of Montserrat safe.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Sharra Greenaway-Duberry has been designated as the Quarantine Authority. The Cabinet has also allowed for the activation of the Quarantine Act, which gives health officials the power to screen patients. It also involves protection of the borders and they designated and trained health officers to board aircraft, ferries, cruise vessels to assess travellers before being allowed entry to the island.
The CMO said we will continue to see increased surveillance at ports of entry. Port Health Officers can be identified by the blue shirts they wear which have their job post along with ID designating them as such. Dr. Greenaway-Duberry assured the public that cruise and other vessels are assessed before being granted permission to dock. Health officers are also boarding the ships to ensure the doctor’s logs match the pre-sent medical reports which are required by international and local laws. Customs, Immigration and the Ministry of Health must now approve passengers before being allowed entry.
The officials asked the public to be aware that these increased measures will mean longer processing time upon arrival. This is expected to increase as visitors begin to arrive over the coming days for the annual St. Patrick’s Festival celebrations.
Dr. Dorothea Hazel-Blake said her focus has been on ensuring that medical staff and the facilities are ready for any potential outbreak. She added that the island has received the supplies requested including masks, and other personal protective equipment to protect staff who may be required to take care of high risk patients.. Health workers and auxiliary staff have undergone training and sensitization of the disease and how to use the equipment to protect their health.
Quarantine buildings have been identified, with additional backup facilities ready if numbers increase.
While both the United States and the United Kingdom have confirmed cases of the virus, the CMO said that releasing a travel advisory including these countries is based on the decisions of Health UK and the regional health agency CARPHA.
Health officials noted that the elderly are more susceptible to experiencing the symptoms from COVID-19.
Minister of Health Charles Kirnon stated that he was confident that the island will get through this and there was no need to panic. He encouraged the public to use official sources for information and not to be distressed by social media posts designed to instill fear. Everyone is encouraged to continue to practice good hygiene and increase the washing of hands and use of hand sanitisers. Hugs and kisses are being discouraged especially as visitors arrive. This is to cut down on exposure to the virus which is passed by close contact, coughing, etc.
Listen to the full interview here