By Carl Joseph
Two people are in quarantine in Antigua and Barbuda as health officials battle on to keep the deadly coronavirus away from the nation’s shores.
The move came the same day the sickness was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), and was applied to a man and a woman who flew into the country separately on Thursday after visiting China.
The two individuals left China’s Beijing and Gansu provinces, respectively, on Wednesday and transited through France, the US, Trinidad, and finally Antigua.
Neither exhibited any signs of illness, said Health Minister Molwyn Joseph.
“We anticipate that they are well people and there’ll be no manifestation over the ensuing days.
“As a result of the screening, we were able to ascertain that there was no evidence of any illness whatsoever,” the minister added.
The two people will be quarantined at their respective homes for two weeks.
Their arrival into the country had been anticipated and the necessary quarantine protocols were activated in preparation.
Medical Officer with responsibility for Epidemiology and Surveillance, Dr Anju Smith, led the team of medical doctors, immigration and airport officials that saw to the transport and testing of the travellers.
A series of questions was asked of the individuals, followed by a battery of tests conducted by Dr Smith’s team.
“Thankfully, these individuals were well,” said Dr Smith.
“But it doesn’t stop there. We do need to follow up with them. So, that means health observations. So we need to know if they are experiencing any signs or symptoms such as fever, cough, headaches, weakness, difficulty in breathing… and that’s some of the ways to find out if something is happening with them,” Dr Smith added.
During the 14-day observation period, the reporting will be done on a twice daily basis.
Dr Smith indicated that should the quarantined people show signs of the virus, “rigorous actions will be taken” by health officials.
“We need to know what the risks are for any threat. Once we determine the risks, we act appropriately. In this case, we acted appropriately,” said Medical Officer of Health, Dr Oritta Zachariah.
In the event a person is confirmed locally as having the virus, ongoing assessments would be carried out to monitor the severity of the illness and the risk posed to the public. Pandemic risk and severity assessments would inform decisions about response strategies, patient treatment and public health interventions.
In this case, health officials chose quarantine over isolation.
Quarantine is used to separate and restrict the movement of those who may have been exposed to a communicable disease. These people may have been exposed to a disease and do not know it, or they may have the disease but do not show symptoms. Quarantine can also help limit the spread of a communicable disease.
“The objective of quarantine is for well-looking persons. Isolation is for the hospital. That is why they are not at Mount St John’s,” Dr Smith explained.
The travellers under quarantine will not be under constant surveillance and health officials are depending on them to adhere to the guidelines of the quarantine for the next two weeks.
“Spot checks will be made, so it is not entirely up to them,” Dr Smith added. “To mobilise resources, to hire someone, to pay someone to sit at somebody’s doorstep to see whether or not they are going to leave their home, [especially] persons that have not demonstrated any illness” is not appropriate, added Minister Joseph.