In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a pilot wearing a protective suit parks a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Hong Kong’s leader announced Tuesday that all rail links to mainland China will be cut starting Friday as fears grow about the spread of a new virus. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)

Government’s latest step to prevent the entry of coronavirus into this country has been to contact the local agents of all cruise liners to ensure ramping-up of questionnaires for passengers on their health, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh has confirmed.

“The major point of concern (among ports) is the port of Port-of-Spain where cruise liners come in,” Deyalsingh said yesterday.

He was replying to Opposition queries on measures to deal with the mysterious coronavirus which arose in China recently.

So far 106 people in China have been killed and 4,520 infected.

Germany yesterday reported its first case.

The US and Canada have advised citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to China.

Deyalsingh said: “We have to try to balance between panic and caution. The last thing you want is a panicked population. The chances of this reaching T&T while remote, needs to be treated seriously and we’re doing that.”

Government has installed thermal-screening at the airports for passengers on arriving flights including from North America, Panama and the UK. To date, 194 flights have been screened—14,380 passengers and crew.

Deyalsingh said hand-held screening devices are located at both ends of Piarco airport. Electronic billboards which were installed advise people coming from certain parts of the world and have a certain temperature, what they should do if they suspect illness. Airports have standards on how to treat with people with body temperature over 37.2 degrees.

Deyalsingh said thermal screening devices have also been instituted at the ports of Chaguaramas, Port-of-Spain, King’s Wharf and Cedros. He said cruise liner crews must fill out declarations on passengers on whether they have fevers or any other illnesses.

He said cruise ships usually originate from Miami and Puerto Rico and a questionnaire which must be filled out before boarding applies to all passengers coming to the Caribbean and ending up in T&T. That process is being ramped up,” he added.

So there’s a first, initial pre-boarding screening where they have to answer questions—that’s how we’re managing the port of PoS.”

“But the chances of coronavirus coming in through cruise ships are even more remote. You have to pay attention to aircraft flights originating with passengers from China. Most cruises coming to T&T would typically not have people who started their journey in China,” he said.

He said there’s a multi-layer of thermal screening of passengers originating in China since they’re screened at airports where they get connecting flights, adding that screening isn’t foolproof as people could have no signs of fever.

Deyalsingh said local airports have isolation areas if a passenger is suspected of having coronavirus—having a temperature above 37.2 degrees and a travel history involving China. They’ll be assessed to see if quarantine is required. He said gowns, gloves and masks—trapping 95 per cent of pathogens—are being distributed through health authorities to health workers in the effort.

Meanwhile health officials have denied rumours that two persons were screened at Caura Hospital for coronavirus.

“I can say categorically that is not true,” CEO of the North Central Regional Health Authority, Davlin Thomas said yesterday.

As of yesterday, over 13,000 passengers and crew, from nearly 200 flights have been screened during the thermal screening exercise at Piarco.

However, these measures are all part of the country’s Infectious Disease Protocol to detect and quickly isolate persons who are exhibiting symptoms of any infectious disease

In the case of Piarco International Airport, screened passengers who require further assessment or even isolation are taken to the Caura Hospital.

Two persons were sent to the facility yesterday, for tests on H1N1 and Tuberculosis.

A $250,000 Isolation Unit, commissioned in 2014 during the Ebola crisis, was activated on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

The unit has a ster­il­i­sa­tion room at the en­trance where med­ical work­ers will get dressed in reusable haz­mat out­fits.

There is a plas­tic cov­ered en­trance lead­ing to the white iso­lat­ed rooms, each about the size of a small bed­room, equipped with a bed, wash­room, and a small ta­ble. There is al­so a sep­a­rate room that leads to the back of the build­ing where health work­ers are sani­tised be­fore un­dress­ing.