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Ebola could damage tourism sector

Published:Tuesday | October 21, 2014 | 3:13 PMEdmond Campbell

PRESIDENT AND chief executive officer of Sagicor Richard Byles says the tourism sector could be a major casualty of Ebola if there is an outbreak of the disease in Jamaica.

"One case of this thing could do tremendous damage to this little island of ours that depends on tourism," he said.

Byles argued that businesses would be severely impacted if the country became isolated, and the economy would take a dive as a result of this feared disease.

"As we have seen in Liberia, if it takes hold, Ebola has the potential to threaten the isolation - and even the demise - of an entire country," Byles said.

The Sagicor head's comments came yesterday during a press conference at the insurance conglomerate's headquarters in New Kingston.

Sagicor donated a $4.3-million fever scan machine for installation at the Sangster International Airport.

The Sagicor boss said he wants the machine to be installed in time for the busy tourism and Christmas seasons when the airport traffic is at its peak.

"We are not donating it because we are in the tourism business or health-insurance business, or in the life-insurance business - all of which would be impacted by an Ebola outbreak. We are doing it as Jamaicans," Byles replied in response to a question on whether he was protecting his business interests.

"Everybody - individuals, businesses, and communities - would be impacted, so we really are doing it as concerned Jamaicans," he added.


Assessing the country's response if it had to deal with Ebola victims, Byles said Jamaica had achieved the first and most important step: that of awareness.

"Everybody is highly aware and sensitive. The second step is to do something practical to help with that sensitivity so that it doesn't turn into mayhem."

He has appealed to the business sector to come on board and contribute to the acquisition of another four machines needed for the Norman Manley International Airport and three major seaports, where tens of thousands of tourists arrive on cruise ships.

Byles said he would have dialogue with Chris Zacca, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, and encourage him to elicit support from his private-sector colleagues to purchase the other pieces of equipment.

The cheque to purchase the fever-scan machine was handed over yesterday to Jennifer McDonald, head of the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency.

McDonald said a suggestion to acquire the machine was made by Marcus Manning, an immigration official, who saw it in operation while on training in South America.

The machine, which is to be acquired from Canada, is designed to carry out mass screening in public areas. The system uses infrared technology to detect individuals with an elevated body temperature as they walk past a special camera.

If an individual is detected with fever, health workers would carry out the necessary investigations to determine if the person may have travelled to an Ebola- affected country.

"That person, if they are suspected of having Ebola, will be held temporarily in an isolation facility at the airport and then moved quite quickly to a health facility, where they can be managed," said Dr Kevin Harvey, acting permanent secretary in the health ministry.