Just hours before he announced the first confirmed case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Trinidad, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced a ban on cruise ships berthing in this country.
Speaking during a post-Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, Port-of-Spain, Deyalsingh said the ban would be in place until the end of cruise ship season on April 24. He said the ban would affect 12 ships – five scheduled to dock in Trinidad and seven scheduled to dock in Tobago. He said the decision to implement the ban was taken by Cabinet note yesterday morning.
Deyalsingh gave the example of San Franciso, where he said a cruise ship docked with positive coronavirus cases on board, causing ‘logistical nightmares’ as authorities there tried to treat the infected people on board.
“We don’t feel that we need to take on that type of risk. We want to preserve our health care system, our supplies and our test kits,” Deyalsingh said.
He said the ban will affect trade and tourism but said the move is for the greater good to protect the health of T&T’s 1.3 million population. He said Cabinet also approved an inter-ministerial committee, with high-ranking officials from National Security under the chairmanship of Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasam. The Minister said this committee has already met three times in the last two weeks as the situation with the virus changes hourly.
Deylasingh said the committee is also charged with translating the World Health Organisation (WHO) policies into action for T&T. He said in order to be prepared for the virus, T&T needs to have two health care systems running at the same time.
“A country that is prepared for coronavirus now needs to have two health care systems literally running in parallel – one delivering the regular services that hundreds of thousands of people use on a daily basis, all the outpatient clinics, you don’t want them to suffer, all the surgeries, both elective and emergency, all the A&Es have to be running, dialysis has to continue, transplant surgeries have to continue because you don’t want to be treating COVID-19 patients in your regular health network,” he said.
To accomplish this parallel system, the number of beds for quarantine at the Caura Hospital have been increased from four to 28 and the Couva Hospital was being prepped to open today (Friday) to accept coronavirus patients.
“A certain small percentage of people will need intensive care in the hospital and we don’t want to treat those people in the regular hospital setting,” he said.
Deyalsingh said talks are already underway for the Augustus Long Hospital in south Trinidad to be used treat coronavirus patients and the Arima Hospital is also coming on ‘line’ soon.
Also addressing the media was National Security Minister Stuart Young, who said the Government is advising the public to limit themselves and to expose themselves less to large crowds and public places.
“There is no need at this stage to be taking risks and expose yourself to non-essential mass gatherings, we have not taken the step of banning any of these events, we are asking people in the first instance to exercise your own self-discipline and caution, limit your exposure to public crowds and public places,” Young said.
He said the public is also reminded to practice good hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly, coughing into tissues or their closed elbows to limit their risk of the virus.
“It goes without saying that people should remain calm and not go into emergency states of panic,” Young said.