The 911 emergency hotline has been activated by local civil aviation authorities to deal with any suspected cases of the deadly Ebola virus arriving in this country. Licensing manager, Civil Aviation Authority, Kingsley Herreira announced that yesterday. Chief executive officer of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) Dr Stephen Ramroop agreed with Herreira that the air-to-ground measure had become necessary to activate emergency systems to prevent the importation and spread of the virus.
Addressing stakeholder agencies during a meeting at the National Operations Centre (NOC), Knowsley Building, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith, who chaired the meeting, said: “There is absolutely no reason for fear or panic. There is a reason for us to be cautious.” Assuring the public that systems were in place to deal with any eventuality, Griffith said the co-ordinated approach was a “proactive” step by Government.
“I do not think we should wait for things to happen and it is very important to prepare now, rather than later,” Griffith said. He said several ministries, including Health, National Security, Transport and Social Development, along with the ODPM, T&T Defence Force, NOC, police, fire, customs, immigration, the Strategic Services Agency and the Counter Trafficking Unit, were all working closely to tackle the issue of the Ebola virus.
Revealing his ministry had increased surveillance along the country’s coastline to prevent the illegal entry of people into the country and reduce the numbers who would not be properly screened by port health officials, Griffith said: “We will deploy more concrete strategies to address any potential occurrence of the virus as well as limit potential threats should the Ebola virus reach our shores.”
Herreira said while there was no general travel ban internationally, many airlines had opted to cease flights to infected countries which included Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. He said on Monday, officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo, confirmed they were examining eight to ten suspected cases.
Principal Medical Officer, Ministry of Health, Dr Clive Tilluckdharry said the quarantine and isolation facilities set up at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), Mt Hope, and at the Caura Hospital were not yet utilised because “there is no Ebola virus case in T&T.”
Adding that the 12-bed triage area at the EWMSC and the two 24-bed wards at Caura was fully equipped to treat with any suspected cases arriving in the country, Tilluckdharry addressed concerns by health workers who were afraid to contract the virus themselves as they interacted and treated patients. “The only thing that would create that panic would be a lack of information,” he said.
Tilluckdharry said the authorities were in the process of educating and sensitising health workers on how the infection was spread, which was through direct contact with the bodily secretions of someone suffering from the virus, such as blood, vomit, contaminated bedding and clothing.
Alluding to other sources of how the virus was spread, Tilluckdharry said in West Africa, animals, such as monkeys, chimpanzees and pigs, often acted as a transmitter of the virus to humans. Asked about whether local authorities were looking at implementing measures to quarantine animals imported into the country, Tilluckdharry said: “We will be looking at this area as well.”