By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AS the coronavirus death toll in China climbs, officials will continue to monitor the travel history of every visitor to The Bahamas, but there are no plans at this time to evacuate Bahamians studying in Wuhan, where the outbreak originated.
According to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, the government does not intend to increase entry screenings as international bodies say this preventative method is not terribly effective. There are no direct flights from China to The Bahamas, and visitors from that country heading here would be screened prior to arrival, Dr Sands said.
Nine Bahamian students are studying in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, however only five are currently in the city as schools in China are on break. The deadly virus outbreak has caused utter “fright” and concern for at least one Bahamian student currently studying in Wuhan.
The student’s concern was posted in a group on Facebook.
“…We came to China to better ourselves to come home to serve our country,” the student wrote. “An opportunity years ago that no one ever foresaw this would happen now in 2020. It is not airborne. It is a transferable virus as in a person needs to come into contact with someone or something that has it.
“We all are taking measures to protect ourselves and miss home very much. So please, understand that it is not a personal choice to be on lock-down and it is frightening.”
Wuhan was one of the first 14 cities where Chinese officials imposed restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Another Bahamian living in Hong Kong recounted the steps she has taken to safeguard herself from contracting the virus.
She said: “On top of hand washing, I have stopped buying fresh fruits and vegetables or anything prepared that could have been exposed. Canned, frozen and jarred will have to do.”
She said she was even stripping labels off cans and jars and placing them in hot water and dishwashing liquid before opening.
“I am even quarantining my groceries,” she wrote. “I purchase and let sit for a few days and follow the official government website that lists places and persons infected (where they) have lived, worked, visited. If after a few days no case is close to my area or connected to the supermarket then I start using my supplies.”
Up to press time, the coronavirus had killed 56 people in China. There are reportedly more than 2,000 infections worldwide, with the virus already found in the United States, Canada, Thailand, France, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Saturday said the Bahamas’ ambassador to China was in close contact with the five students currently in Wuhan as well as all Bahamians living there. The statement added that the students in Wuhan were safe and had been advised to comply with all safety and security advisories issued by Chinese officials.
Yesterday, Dr Sands insisted that while the concerns over the virus are understandable, there remain far greater threats in measles and influenza that many Bahamians have chosen to ignore.
“We have been considering it but at this point there are no plans based on the current recommendation,” Dr Sands said yesterday when he was asked if government planned to evacuate students in China.
He also said: “I think we have to be very sensitive to the public’s concerns and fears.
“We are working very closely with WHO, CDC and PAHO. We are following the recommendations of those international bodies being mindful of the concerns of our citizens. We are working very closely with foreign affairs and tourism and we have to be holistic as we make any decisions.
“The World Health Organisation has not declared this as a pandemic of international concern. It is certainly an issue for China and the Chinese government has done a phenomenal job of containing the movement of people.
“Yes there have been less than 100 people that we are aware of carrying the virus out of the country but for the most part this has been contained to China because they have taken some very extraordinary and unusual approaches to containing it.
“If you look now at the CDC advice and the WHO advice, they are supporting exit screening. They have demonstrated that entry screening is not terribly effective, so very few airports around the world, even very busy airports have not adopted entry screening,” Dr Sands also said.
“They have also said not to curtail international commerce or travel and so we don’t make this stuff up as we go along. What we try to do is look at what is in the best interest of the Bahamas and Bahamians, but we have to be mindful of the evidence and people panicking isn’t going to help.
“I think it’s very important for us to recognise that we have far greater threats that’s in measles and the flu. We would have had several persons with measles make it to The Bahamas. We would have said we have 35,000 people that require additional vaccination.”
But despite an aggressive approach toward measles vaccinations, only 13,000 people have heeded local warnings.
“That’s good, but its not good enough,” Dr Sands told this newspaper yesterday.
“So in the time that we have been worried about coronavirus and some 56 people died at the same time we’ve had some 10,000 people die from measles. While we are worrying about corona, 4,0000 have died worldwide from influenza. The issue is people are far more likely to die from the flu or measles than you are from corona.”
Symptoms of the coronavirus can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and respiratory problems.
It is spread from human to human, and is likely transmitted by coughing or sneezing.
To help prevent the spread of infection, members of the public are advised to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness.