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Gov’t to ramp up screening as new killer virus reaches US

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 12:21 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Jamaican authorities have heightened the alertness of officials at ports of call amid the emergence of a new virus that has caused more than a dozen deaths in China and has spread to four other countries, including the United States.

Travellers – particularly those from China – who present with symptoms may be quarantined as a precaution, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton told The Gleaner yesterday afternoon.

Known as 2019-nCoV, the new strain of coronavirus has not previously been identified in humans.

Transmission was initially believed to have been caused by animals, but human-to-human contact is gaining traction in theories as the core driver of the infection rate.

With 17 deaths from a new respiratory virus and more than 500 confirmed cases, Wuhan, the capital of Central China, where it emerged, has shut down public transport in an attempt to curb the outbreak.

Those living in the commercial centre have been advised not to leave even as China prepares for the Lunar New Year holiday later this week.

Tufton has advised that local health personnel have been trained to deal with such emergencies and that the ministry would continue monitoring assessments provided by the World Health Organization to appropriately deal with the virus.


“We have briefed our relevant line staff, in particular, the border-protection health workers – those who are at the ports and airports – based on our own tracking and information coming out of the World Health Organization,” the minister said.

“Persons who are in the country and who have the relevant symptoms could be taken in quarantine, and the areas where they would have visited or been exposed to, those areas would be visited and inspected to determine if there has been any transmission to others,” Tufton said.

In a press statement yesterday afternoon, Shadow Minister of Health Dr Morais Guy expressed “serious concern” at the emergence of the virus and urged the Government to mitigate the risk of spread.

“We are aware that at least one case has been confirmed in the USA, and with the proximity as well as the significant air travel between the USA and Jamaica, it might only be a matter of when it reaches our shores,” the shadow minister said.

There were 7,896 stopover arrivals from Asia from January to November 2019.