MEDICAL specialists reminded the hospitality sector that the Caribbean had only a very small chance of contracting Coronavirus but warned them to be wary of an unprecedented amount of misinformation and fake news circulating about the virus, especially on social media sites.
Dr Lisa Indar, Deputy Executive Director, Surveillance Disease Prevention and Control at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), speaking during a webinar organized by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), said the risk for the region was “low to moderate” and stressed the Caribbean did not have any reported cases, largely because travellers to the region from affected countries had to take a number of commercial flights before reaching the region.
But, she said “that does not mean we cannot be prepared given the rapidly changing nature of this novel disease. We have had meetings with CMOs (Chief Medical Officers) and ministers of health to ramp up vigilance at our ports of entry.”
Several Caribbean countries have implemented a number of containment strategies to ensure the region is made as safe as possible from the virus and CARPHA was working closely with the private sector organization CHTA and its public sector counterpart the Caribbean Tourism Organization to ensure the hotel and tourism sectors were properly prepared.
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), based on the recommendations of the emergency committee (International Health Regulations), declared the 2019 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern which Dr Stephanie Fletcher-Lartey, resident specialist at CARPHA, said was a call for enhanced global coordination: “Once that has been declared, countries and various international organizations can tap into resources (to support the response to the outbreak).”
The regular flu virus had already killed at least 10,000 people in the United States of America this season and Dr Indar urged people to take precautions from that disease whose symptoms include heavy coughing, sneezing, fever, and headaches and are similar to those for Coronavirus. Washing hands regularly, avoiding close contact with people who may have symptoms, staying clear of crowds and seeking immediate medical attention are important precautions.
Dr Joy St John, Executive Director of CARPHA, echoed her colleague’s warnings about “fake news” poisoning the Caribbean and reported CARPHA was myth-busting by producing videos dealing with a lot of the questions so that everyone understands the issues and can focus on credible sources.
Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of CHTA, agreed with Dr St John, stating: “We have seen several false reports posted online in recent days alleging contamination at a hotel. This is irresponsible. People making such false accusations should be held liable for their actions. Any such reports should be scrutinized by CARPHA or the local health authorities before one even considers sharing.”
He pointed to a number of informational, reporting and monitoring protocols and procedures which are in place to help the hotel and tourism sector deal with medical emergencies, which have been carefully crafted by CARPHA and other regional health organizations.
Dr Indar along with Comito urged all of the region’s hotels which are not part of CARPHA’s Tourism Health Information System (THIS), which provides support information and helps to manage early warning procedures, to sign up. “This is a very important tool which helps us to mitigate the spread of disease, and to protect the safety of residents and guests as well as the reputation of our destinations,” Dr Indar stressed.