Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Tourism virus scare - China travel ban imposed as Jamaica ‘particularly vulnerable’ to outbreak

Published:Saturday | February 1, 2020 | 12:20 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton addresses journalists at a press conference in Ocho Rios, St Ann, on Friday. To his right is Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith. Jamaica has imposed a ban on China travel because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton addresses journalists at a press conference in Ocho Rios, St Ann, on Friday. To his right is Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith. Jamaica has imposed a ban on China travel because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Jamaica has imposed a ban on travel to and from China with immediate effect and there are jitters that the local tourist industry could be hurt by the snowballing coronavirus outbreak if it reaches these shores.

The United States has also barred travellers from China, and health officials there have confirmed that the virus has now spread from person to person for the first time in that country. The US has set its advisory at Level Four, which represents the highest safety risk.

Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said yesterday that the travel and tourism industry, in particular, was in a very precarious position and could face economic fallout from the emerging global health crisis.

“While the Latin American and Caribbean region has not yet reported any cases of the coronavirus, it is only logical to assume that the virus is likely to hit the region’s shores at any moment now, considering its current geographical spread and trajectory,” Bartlett told The Gleaner yesterday.

There have been 259 coronavirus deaths globally and close to 12,000 confirmed cases.

Jamaica’s decision to ban China travel comes in the wake of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration of the novel coronavirus as a global health emergency, and days after the Ministry of Health & Wellness announced an advisory discouraging persons from travelling to China, the epicentre of the virus.

Speaking at a press briefing at the North East Regional Health Authority offices in Ocho Rios, St Ann, on Friday, Minister of Health & Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton said the severity of the restriction was necessary because Jamaica’s size made it “particularly vulnerable” should there be an outbreak of the virus.

He noted that the Government could deny access to the country to people known to have travelled to China, owing to how rapidly the virus was spreading.

“The virus offers a clear and present danger. The consequences can be dire,” he said.

14-day quarantine

The Government, he said, would also be more rigid in quarantining persons who have travelled to the Asian country. Travellers from China will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days, while those presenting with symptoms will be immediately isolated.

“Isolation facilities are operational at all public hospitals, with a specialist facility available at the National Chest Hospital,” said the health and wellness minister.

In the meantime, he made it clear that the foremost objective of the Government was to ensure the safety and security of the Jamaican people.

“While we appreciate the inconveniences that these restrictions may cause for some persons, we really have to do what is necessary to protect our population,” the minister said.

Re-emphasising the seriousness of the situation, Tufton strongly advised Jamaicans not to travel to China at this time.

Among the countries outside China with confirmed cases are the US (six), Canada (three), Australia (nine), France (five), Germany (four), Japan (11), Malaysia (eight) and Thailand (14).

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com