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Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, left, chats with Global Medical Response of Trinidad and Tobago (GMRTT) CEO Dr Paul Anderson during a demonstration of one of the ambulances equipped to deal with suspected COVID-19 cases during a press conference at the ministry’s Port-of-Spain headquarters yesterday.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh is urging citizens to “use common sense” to protect themselves against COVID-19, especially if they are thinking about travelling through or to countries where confirmed cases have been identified.

Deyalsingh spoke about citizens’ personal responsibility, safety precautions and travel as the virus continues to spread globally during a press conference at the ministry’s Port-of-Spain headquarters yesterday.

“I am asking the population to exercise common sense in travelling. If you absolutely have to go on a long international commercial flight, go. If you can delay that, if you’re going to a birthday party, a wedding, a fete, think twice but if you absolutely have to travel, you have to travel. That is the best common-sense advice I can give about travelling,” he said.

Deyalsingh, along with the ministry’s Permanent Secretary and Cabinet, have also decided “that all non-essential travel for ministry personnel will stop.”

He recommended “common sense social distancing measures” to prevent any possible transmission of the virus.

“No more social hugging, no more social kissing. If you are ill stay home and get examined, isolate yourself until you have a clean bill of health,” he said.

Deyalsingh also urged parents to keep their children away from school if they are exhibiting flu-like symptoms “because, in that environment, one child, one person, one teacher with COVID-19, can infect an entire school.”

He also appealed to religious organisations to reconsider how they hold their activities. (See page 21)

There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in T&T, he said, noting that the test on a passenger who arrived here on a flight from Canada on Monday night and had exhibited flu-like symptoms, had come back negative.

However, Deyalsingh said in an attempt to maintain this status for T&T, discussions are being held with diplomatic representatives from the United Kingdon, United States and Canada to implement exit screening for passengers destined for this country. These three territories are closely linked with T&T and have confirmed cases of COVID-19, he said. The minister said Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram will be meeting with technical personnel at diplomatic missions and abroad to come up with measures for exit screening of flights. This will be applied to airports with direct flights to this country, such as Gatwick and Heathrow in the United Kingdom, Lester B. Pearson in Toronto, Canada and Miami International, John F Kennedy International and Houston in the United States.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of March 4 there were 108 confirmed cases in the United States, 30 in Canada and 51 in the United Kingdom. The minister, however, explained that no travel restrictions would be placed for these countries, as their cases have been gradually increasing over a month-long period as opposed to countries such as Iran.

“When you look at their epidemiology, they seem to have it very well under control as opposed to South Korea (which has 5,328 cases) and Iran (2,336 cases) where there was an explosive increase in cases…the public health systems in these countries are very well developed, they have isolated cases, they have found their index cases most of the times…there is no talk of a travel restriction for those three countries unless something absolutely drastic happens,” he said.