THE Coronavirus epidemic is causing fear and widespread misinformation in the country to the point where the Ministry of Health is being forced to take certain measures to combat the abovementioned.
The Sandals hotel chain is the latest victim of the spread of misinformation about the virus and has had to resort to social media to deal with the misrepresentation.
It all began with someone posting on social media a video of a scene on Tuesday afternoon on the compound of Victoria Hospital that showed three individuals clothed from head to toe in white protective suits, one of them pushing a wheelchair in which sat a Caucasian male with a face mask. The rumour spread that this individual was a guest at one of the Sandals hotels on island.
Sandals Managing Director Winston Anderson took to WhatsApp to dispel the rumour noting that no one staying at any of the Sandals resorts had been screened by the Ministry of Health for the virus.
“I want to strongly dispel some misinformation making the rounds on WhatsApp that any of our guests at the three resorts in Saint Lucia had been screened by the Ministry of Health. This is simply not true and is totally misleading,” Anderson said.
The misinformation plus the wheeling of the ‘patient’ accompanied by the three individuals in what looked like decontamination suits which was viewed by dozens of persons who came to the hospital during visiting hours, forced the Ministry of Health to issue a statement on Tuesday, February 11 claiming that what was seen was the Ministry going through established protocols in light of the Coronavirus.
“The Department of Health and Wellness confirms the arrival of a non-national in Saint Lucia from a nearby territory via a private yacht,” the statement read. “In keeping with our national response protocols, the individual has been placed on medical quarantine at a public health facility and the necessary assessments are being undertaken. The Department of Health and Wellness assures the public that established protocols and guidelines are being followed to ensure the protection of the health and safety of our medical practitioners, our clients and the general public. Further updates will be provided as relevant details become available.”
Twenty-four hours prior to that statement the Ministry of Health had released another in which it reported that the World Health Organization reported a total of 40,235 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus from China.
According to the release there are now 319 confirmed cases in 24 countries which include: Thailand (32), Japan (26), and the Republic of Korea (27), Vietnam (14), Singapore (43), Australia (15), Malaysia (18), Cambodia (1), Philippines (3), Nepal (1), Sri Lanka (1), India (3), United States of America (12), Canada (7), France (11), Finland (1), Germany (14), Italy (3), Russian Federation (2), United Kingdom (4), Belgium (1), Spain (2), Sweden (1) and United Arab Emirates (7). Cases on an international conveyance (Japan) (70).
The statement went on to say that “there are no Coronavirus cases in St Lucia or the Caribbean region,” and that the four quarantined cases in Saint Lucia were doing well and have not exhibited any signs or symptoms.
According to the Ministry one of the gaps in the Coronavirus management indicated last week was diagnostic testing. However, as of Friday, February 7, 2020 the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad has indicated that they have developed the capacity to facilitate regional testing. CARPHA Medical Microbiology Laboratory (CMML) is accepting specimens for diagnostic testing by molecular method. The turnaround time is 24-48 hours from receipt of the specimen at CMML.
Coronaviruses cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. This new strain has not been previously identified in humans. Presently, there is limited information on the characterization of the behaviour of the virus, the severity of infection and the levels of transmissibility.
The Department of Health and Wellness says it continues to strengthen its preparedness plans to manage the virus and that engagements are scheduled with the hotel and tourism sector, the private business sector and the education sector, in an effort to strengthen stakeholder participation and preparation.