New virus in China: Jamaica’s health authorities on alert

Jamaica’s health authorities are on alert following the outbreak of pneumonia caused by a new strain of coronavirus in a province of China.

In a news release on Monday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness said it notes the recent reports of the cluster of coronavirus cases under investigation in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China and wishes to advise the public that to date, Jamaica has no case of this disease.

“Jamaica has a robust surveillance system already in place to detect emerging diseases. The Ministry wishes to reiterate that preparedness activities will continue for the prevention and containment of this disease,” said Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Karen Webster Kerr, adding that “These activities include surveillance, early detection, and rapid isolation and treatment of all cases.”

To date, there have been reports that China has a cluster of cases of pneumonia caused by a new strain of coronavirus in Wuhan City.

The ministry noted that there have also been exported cases from China to other countries, namely Thailand and Japan. All these persons had travelled to Wuhan City, the ministry said, noting that officials in China have linked the viral infections to a Wuhan seafood and wildlife market.

The Chinese authorities, the ministry added, are investigating whether any animals were infected with the virus.

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO), had confirmed and reported the cluster of viral pneumonia of unknown etiology in Wuhan City. The WHO however, did not recommend any specific health measures for travellers.

In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, the travellers were encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their healthcare provider and to avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.

The spread of the virus comes as China gets ready for the Lunar New Year holiday later this week. The holiday period typically sees millions of Chinese travellers throughout the country and overseas.

In further cautioning travellers, Dr Webster Kerr said, “We want to remind persons to pay attention to the standard infection prevention and control precautions, especially as it relates to viral respiratory illnesses. Travellers to the affected areas where the outbreak is present should take the necessary steps to prevent an introduction of the disease into the island.”

Travellers should avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections; frequently wash hands, especially after direct contact with ill persons or their environment and persons with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette, that is, maintain distance from others, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands frequently, she said.

“Overall good personal hygiene is the main way to prevent and reduce transmission of respiratory diseases.” Webster Kerr added.