Naturally, I welcome the comprehensive statement by Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone on the government’s response to the rapidly evolving spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. I also welcome his participation in the eighth special emergency meeting of Caribbean Community heads of government on Sunday, at which a regional protocol establishing minimum standards for dealing with the virus was agreed.

The meeting was also attended by representatives of the cruise ship industry.

I also was reassured to learn that the BVI Health Services Authority would soon be able to conduct COVID-19 testing at the hospital laboratory and that it will be stockpiling personal protective equipment for health workers. I hope that adequate supplies of masks will be made available to vulnerable members of the public as well


‘World of uncertainty’

We are entering this new world of uncertainty at a disadvantage compared with our position before the storms, in the absence of our former district networks of public libraries and post office branches through which information could be received and dispensed. Closing our only post office would be a further blow.

On Jan. 9 it was reported that health authorities had become concerned that that the viral pneumonia that had struck 59 people in China may be a coronavirus related to SARS, which spread to 37 countries in 2003, causing global panic and killing more than 750 people. The new coronavirus was officially dubbed COVID-19 on Feb. 12.

Last week’s Beacon had just one paragraph on it: a travel advisory by the Ministry of Health and Social Development concerning travel to China and other specific countries in the Far East or northern Italy where there had been serious outbreaks of COVID-19. Since the advisory was issued, the Cabinet has turned away a ship carrying passengers who had boarded it after direct flights from Italy. Three passengers had tested positive for Influenza A. They were isolated on the ship, but it was not equipped to test them for COVID-19.


Dominican Republic

On Sunday, health officials in the Dominican Republic reported the first case in that country. A 62-year-old Italian man had arrived in the DR on Feb. 22 without showing symptoms. He was being treated in isolation at a military hospital and “has not shown serious complications,” officials said.

Our neighbours in the United States VI, meanwhile, should be well-prepared for an infection. A press release by the USVI Department of Health on Jan. 14 encouraged all residents to be immunised against flu as soon as possible, as their flu season was well under way. It usually starts later there than in the continental US, but this year there has been an early increase of cases. It takes about two weeks after the vaccination to develop protection, but it’s never too late.

The VIDOH recommended injectable flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months old and older, including pregnant women.


Protective measures

Everyone must take the flu seriously and protect themselves and others by ensuring that all eligible family members are vaccinated.

All around the world, people are changing their daily habits at work and at home to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading. They are being told to reject handshakes and high fives, refuse kisses on the cheek, and avoid hugging. A Chinese man living under lockdown has run 31 miles in his living room, saying he was sick of sitting around.

The ever-more-likely worst-case scenario of confirmed cases here could lead to flights and ferries being curtailed; cruise ships staying away; and a mass exodus of tourists and expatriate workers. Cabinet could find itself declaring a state of emergency even more drastic than the one necessary following Irma: closing schools and workplaces, imposing curfews, and making early preparations for the hurricane season.

Just in case, residents should identify the best room in the house in which to be quarantined and stock up on food, water, medical supplies, and essential household items like batteries.

Firms should urgently review their business continuity plans, but it’s probably too late to take out business interruption insurance. Other countries may offer their own citizens transport home on condition they are quarantined for up to two weeks, but others would be unwelcome.