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By Elesha George

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The Antigua and Barbuda government has been advised by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) to ready itself to close its borders if the risk of Covid-19 spread becomes overwhelming.

“The first principle that we have tried to highlight is that countries should have a clear picture of the dynamics of the pandemic in countries of origin, and can modulate and adjust their travel recommendations regarding access to their countries,” explained Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, PAHO’s incident manager.

He said it is important for Caribbean countries that choose to reopen their airspace or maritime traffic to monitor which countries travellers are coming from and have the option to “adapt their list of countries that are not allowed to travel to their ports”.

Dr Aldighieri said the government has reported its spike in coronavirus cases of both nationals and visitors since the borders reopened on June 1.

Residents here have chided the government for reopening the border too soon. But Dr Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s director of health emergencies, said, “It is possible to resume the influx of tourists with zero risks of Covid-19 cases, therefore any decision by national authorities in that effect, should be informed by their capacity to monitor the health of the travellers once they arrive to the country.”

Like many countries in the Eastern Caribbean and around the world, Antigua and Barbuda is keeping its borders open to restore economic activity – a necessity that has resulted in 43 additional cases.

Both men agree that countries should continue to strengthen resilience in their capacity to cope with an influx of patients in isolation and quarantine facilities and to address patients with severe symptoms of the virus.

Dr Aldighieri said Antigua and Barbuda is a “good example” of a country that continues to strengthen its laboratory surveillance.

“From since the beginning of the pandemic Antigua and Barbuda has developed and implemented the PCR diagnostic in the country, contact tracing teams are trained and equipped with software in order to do the contact tracing. This is the way that countries must prepare in the Eastern Caribbean and also in many other countries,” he touted.

PAHO’s director Dr Carissa Etienne said the organisation was “impressed” by the rapid adoption of preventative measures that people in Latin America and the Caribbean have adopted, like opting to stay home, avoiding mass gatherings and wearing protective equipment, which she said was instrumental in keeping cases low early in the pandemic.

“Thanks to these actions, we have saved thousands of lives,” she remarked.

Nonetheless, Dr Etienne called on residents not to become too relaxed, noting that the region is still witnessing the first wave of the virus.

“What we are seeing now is not a second wave. This is still the first wave and I’m afraid it continues to grow. This wave is moving through each country affecting areas that have not had many cases before and this trend is concerning,” she explained.

The worry she said, is that the surge comes at a time when most people are experiencing a level of fatigue with recommended measures.

“We should reinforce preventive measures when cases rise in a given city or state; we shouldn’t be relaxing them … The pandemic is moving from some of the bigger cities that tend to have better hospital capacity to smaller towns that may not be able to accommodate patients that require ICU or other specialised care.

“Therefore, mortality could rise if more of the newly infected patients have trouble accessing the care that they need,” the director warned.

As of Monday, there were 5.9 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in Latin America and the Caribbean, with about 267,000 deaths in the Americas.

According to Dr Etienne, “Last week there were 735,000 new cases in the region with an average of over 100,000 cases reported every day – nearly 20 per cent higher than the previous week.”

She advised countries that have seen recent acceleration of cases to remain particularly alert to the changing trend. 

PAHO said a decision on how to resume cruise line activity is still ongoing as cruise liners’ traffic would be more challenging than air traffic. From the beginning of the pandemic the organisation said that cruise ships and cruisers were a concern regarding the importation of cases.

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