March 3, 2020 GIU, Davy Hill Montserrat– Officials in the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS), and other key stakeholders, are in a state of readiness, as preparedness measures and protocols have been increased, to deal with the possibility of the new coronavirus disease (COVID19) on the island.
Local preparations began in January 2020, following the December 31, 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) alert of a new virus in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Since then, the virus, now called Coronavirus Disease (COVID 19) has been reported in other parts of the world; including the Caribbean as of March 1, 2020. In light of this, the WHO has elevated the Caribbean’s risk level of the coronavirus COVID-19 to very high.
The Premier, Honourable Joseph ‘Easton’ Farrell; Minister of Health, Honourable Charles Kirnon; Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sharra Greenaway-Duberry and Director of Primary Health Care, Dr. Dorothea Hazel-Blake appeared on the state owned radio station (Radio Montserrat-ZJB) on Monday March 1, to reassure the public of the island’s state of readiness and encourage members of the public to not panic.
Premier Farrell said, “The government’s primary aim is to protect its people, our people’s health is paramount and we will do everything in our powers to ensure we keep the people of Montserrat safe, we will continue to alert you and keep you informed, and I know the Ministry of Health has been informing you through various means. We are ready and we will do everything possible as a Government to support the team in making sure Montserrat is safe—if or when a case arises, we will deal with it”.
The Minister of Health, Hon. Kirnon said persons should avoid panicking and instead practice good hygiene to prevent the likelihood of contracting COVID 19. He stated that we must avoid scaring people in our conversations, instead we need to start by taking a personal responsibility to do the things we ought to be doing, such as washing our hands, not visiting people when we are coughing, especially the elderly, and not going to work when we are coughing as that will spread any disease.
As the island also prepares for an increase in visitors over the next few days, the CMO, who was also appointed by Cabinet as the Quarantine Authority in February 2020, highlighted some of the measures implemented by the Ministry of Health as part of the preparedness plans, which are in keeping with the Quarantine Act.
The Quarantine Act addresses public health threats and allows authorities to identify high risk persons, screen them and make a decision on whether they are high or low risk, and whether or not someone needs to be isolated or quarantined.
CMO and Quarantine Authority, Dr. Greenaway-Duberry stated, “Our Quarantine Act also governs how we conduct Port Health, and so we have established our port health obligations as a Ministry; we have appointed Health Officers and visiting officers who are responsible for boarding ships/vessels and aircraft to conduct inspections.”
She noted that these inspections have been ongoing and will be intensified during the upcoming peak tourist season. Cruise ships calling to Montserrat are always expected to produce health declaration forms and are subjected to screenings before being allowed to disembark passengers.
“We are increasing surveillance at our ports of entry, in particular Port Little Bay. We have already started visiting the Port when the ferry comes in and when we do have cruise ships we have been boarding them ensuring that the doctor’s logs are checked and matches the health declaration form, before granting permission to disembark.”
In late January, the Premier and Minister of Finance authorised the release of additional funds for the Ministry of Health to bolster the country’s preparedness. Dr. Hazel-Blake said since then the Ministry has replenished their stocks of critical equipment and has conducted training for essential staff.
“In addition to ensuring the Ports have proper surveillance, we also recognized that in any preparations for situations such as COVID 19, we have to ensure that we have adequate supplies for staff and patients. We have face shields, Personal Protective Equipment, gloves, face masks including the N95 facemasks which are the approved masks,” expressed Dr. Hazel-Blake.
Facilities for isolation and quarantine have also been identified for use by the Ministry.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. About 2% of people with the disease have died. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention
Note: Radio Montserrat’s Link to the interview: https://soundcloud.com/user-987002611/government-of-montserrat-corona-virus-update-monday-2-march-2020?fbclid=IwAR2txm3LVTWWIAh-hl-Y651ci_3Rz5Z0V3Irzg4PZ6ohsat7I7k_Uri_bpY