The entire community should be working together to prepare for the potential arrival of the coronavirus strain that has killed more than 1,000 people in a global outbreak originating in China.

Though we fervently hope the virus will not reach these shores, the number of tourists who visit each day means the territory is almost certainly facing an elevated risk.

So far, the Virgin Islands government appears to be taking reasonable steps to prepare: Health officials say they are working with regional organisations to lay the groundwork for a response that could include setting up quarantine facilities and implementing monitoring procedures at ports of entry.

This is welcome news, as the response would be a major undertaking. If the virus does arrive, immediate action would be needed in the public and private sectors alike, involving health workers, border officers, teachers, businesses and many others. The needed response could last months and require substantial resources.

Besides the health concerns, an outbreak here could also have devastating economic effects.

The financial services industry is already feeling the pressure: BVI House Asia and many VI firms have closed their Hong Kong-based offices for now. A local outbreak would probably shut offices and other businesses across the territory.

The tourism industry, however, is the most vulnerable. If the virus is reported in the VI, visitor arrivals could plummet virtually overnight and remain low for months. And the cruise ship industry is likely to see a downturn no matter what given the recent cases of the virus on ships in Asia.

Businesses and government, then, need to be working hand in hand to prepare for potentially wide-ranging effects.

Meanwhile, all residents should also educate themselves about the virus and take preventive measures just in case. To that end, doctors recommend frequent hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene practices like covering the mouth when sneezing.

Anyone experiencing severe flu-like symptoms should report immediately to a doctor after calling ahead to warn them of the visit. The elderly and infirm, who are at the greatest risk from the disease, should take extra precautions.

Nevertheless, there is no need for panic. So far the virus has killed fewer than two percent of the people it has infected, and a proper national response should go a long way toward minimising that risk.

With calm and reasoned preparations, we are confident the territory would be able to weather the coronavirus if it arrives.

 


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