Threat assessment from killer virus upgraded
Bermuda braced itself yesterday for a potential public health emergency over a killer virus.
The Ministry of Health said it had raised the threat level from the coronavirus from “guarded” to “elevated” and that its epidemiology and surveillance unit (ESU) was in a “state of heightened preparedness for a public health emergency”.
Kim Wilson, the health minister, said: “Bermuda’s routine public health surveillance activities have been increased, through the well-established collaborations between the ESU and the hospital, physician’s offices and customs and immigration departments.”
Ms Wilson said “enhanced monitoring” of people with respiratory illnesses will continue, per international standards, set by the World Health Organisation, the Pan American Health Organisation and the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
Ms Wilson added: “The public is advised to act on the recommendations of the ESU.”
Travellers who have been to China, ground zero of the outbreak, or areas known to have human-to-human transmission of the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, were advised to “identify yourselves upon arrival to customs and immigration officials, who will provide you with a health information card for follow up if necessary”.
A government spokeswoman told travellers: “If you are ill upon arrival, inform airport personnel for assistance.”
The spokeswoman added: “If you become ill with a respiratory infection following travel to China or another affected region, call your healthcare provider in advance, inform them of your travel history and seek medical care.”
Residents are advised to avoid non-essential travel to China and other places where there have been confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission.
The public was also told to ensure their immunisations were up to date.
Health experts said people should also regularly wash their hands, use safe food handling practices and avoid contact with people that have respiratory infections, as well as farm and wild animals.
People who have no travel plans are advised to take medicines as prescribed, cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze and to stay away from work and social gatherings if they are ill.
At least 82 people have died in China from the virus, which has also infected at least 2,900 worldwide. Cases of the virus have been confirmed in Hong Kong, Macao, Taipei, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, France and the United States.
A spokeswoman for Bermuda Hospitals Board said today: “Following the recent advisory by the Ministry of Health regarding the coronavirus — 2019-nCoV — that was first identified in Wuhan in China, BHB can confirm that even though the current threat to Bermuda residents is low, we are closely monitoring developments and are ready to respond should the threat increase.
“BHB has questions in its admission process that identifies anyone who has travelled to a place where there have been known infections and we are ensuring we have all necessary supplies.
“BHB has protocols in place as part of day-to-day running of the hospitals to minimise the spread of infectious diseases.
“Measures include negative pressure rooms in the emergency and the acute care wing units that are checked daily and infection prevention protocols, such as using protective equipment and clothing.
“We also have plans in place that enable us to deal with outbreaks and epidemics that could be triggered if the mode of transmission changes and global infection rates continue to increase.”
Michael Ashton, BHB’s Chief of Medicine and Infectious Diseases Specialist, added: “We are closely monitoring this novel coronavirus and continue to work closely with Government.
“BHB has detailed plans for dealing with outbreaks and epidemics and we swiftly reviewed our admissions processes as a precaution.
“We would ask that people only come to the hospital emergency department if they truly have an emergency situation.
“If you are concerned that you may be infected, please call your family doctor or the emergency department before you arrive — as people in the same waiting area could be otherwise put at risk.”
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