By EARYEL BOWLEG
A HEALTH expert has warned it could be a public health risk to bring citizens back home from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, without being quarantined.
Dr Esther de Gourville, a representative for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands for the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “My understanding is the Bahamian persons who are in China, none of them are symptomatic. Having them brought home is to reduce the anxiety of the students and their families but we also need to take into perspective that having them brought home in the event that any of them are in the incubation period for this disease will present risks to the wider population if they’re not appropriately quarantined and clinically managed.”
She added: “The emerging data suggests… there can be 10 to 14 days between the time of exposure to the virus and coming down with symptoms. So, it means that in that 10-14 day period people may appear to be healthy but the emerging data also suggests that they still may transmit the virus to others.”
According to international media reports, Japan and America have evacuated their citizens from the Chinese city and Britain is making plans to evacuate UK nationals.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed nine Bahamian students are studying in Wuhan. However, only five are currently in the city as schools in China are on break. Yesterday, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said officials are “finalising the logistical plans” for those studying in China who wish to return home.
Dr Sands also said it is likely they will be quarantined upon their return but did not give more specifics.
Dr de Gourville explained other countries moving their citizens is a response to China’s travel restriction, which is to limit the mass movement of people globally to and from the affected area in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Although the move was not in accordance with WHO’s guidelines, she noted it was China’s sovereign right to implement the measure and the organisation views the decision as very useful in attempting to contain the spread of the virus. Yet, developing a vaccine for the virus could take more than a year to be available as a structured trial needs to happen before it can be officially available for widespread use.
She expressed confidence in the Bahamian health authority to be able to handle the issue, but identified the challenges of detection of the virus.
“So, on the face of it, if we found someone in The Bahamas who has cough, fever, chills, and then progresses to pneumonia – a lower respiratory infection —there are a number of viruses and bacteria that can give that clinical pattern.
“So key to the frontline information is the history of travel and contact with persons who are in the countries impacted by this virus. So that needs to be taken into account in the training of personnel at points of entry, in the training of clinicians, and the training of nurses.”
The regional representative hammered the message that health authorities internationally are trying to manage the situation by developing a plan of action for preparedness and response. On the other hand, she encouraged people to take their own measures to protect themselves against other deadly viruses for which there are effective vaccines.