Among the initiatives are the introduction of new, more detailed health forms for incoming visitors and the possibility of visa bans for persons from affected areas.
Khan, chief medical officer Dr Colin Furlonge, other senior medical personnel and executive director of the National Operations Centre (NOC) Commander Garvin Heerah, spoke about the Ebola action plan yesterday at a press conference at the ministry’s head office on Park Street, Port-of-Spain.
Furlonge said the new health forms will be, “critically different from what right now obtains as you enter the country.” They will seek detailed information about a person’s travel within the last six weeks prior to entering TT.
This includes the cities you visited, the reasons for those visits and your interactions while there. Furlonge explained this was important because depending on what a person does while abroad, “It changes the whole dimension of whether you’re a person of interest or not.”
“Do we or can we put visa bans on certain countries,” Khan said, “where there is an Ebola epidemic.” He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, “has approved it in principle, pending comments from the Minister of National Security (Gary Griffith) on the travel card as well as that of the Attorney General (Anand Ramlogan) on the possibility of looking at visa restrictions.”
If someone does arrive here from a country/city where Ebola is present but does not exhibit any symptoms, the ministry says it will check their temperature “twice daily” until the 21-day incubation period has passed to ensure they do not pose a threat to locals.
Additional space is being allocated at both airports to allow for proper screening and isolation of suspected Ebola patients. The Health Ministry is also looking at TT nationals who work in West Africa, where the outbreak began and where the overwhelming majority of cases have been recorded.
Currently, TT nationals “are not flagged and as a result, (nationals) who are working in those areas are able to enter TT without us knowing their travel history.” The ministry is therefore developing plans to “identify such people.”
In the coming weeks, health centres and hospitals across TT will have posters and pamphlets about the signs and symptoms of Ebola, and what you can do to reduce the risk of contracting it. Furlonge noted that an informed public was key to reducing panic in TT.
The Health Ministry has also ordered “Level Four” hazmat suits, which Khan and Furlonge said should alleviate concerns of health care staff charged with handling suspected/Ebola patients.
It was revealed that the Health Ministry is “working very assiduously” with the NOC and members of the protective services to safeguard all ports, Furlonge said, “because we understand that is the first point of entry. Ebola will have to be imported, so we have to stop that.”
Extra patrols along Trinidad’s southwest coast, which Heerah said is a known point of illegal entry, are also being implemented to reduce the risk of an Ebola patient slipping undetected into the country.
National security agencies will also be working with villagers in coastal communities, encouraging them to report suspicious persons. Furlonge also said that yesterday morning the ministry held the first of several meetings with senior officers from the Immigration Division. Meetings will also be held with Customs and Excise Division officers.
Khan spoke of development of “iron-clad” procedures in a “specific, simple manner.” He said the authorities have put things in place for a person of interest who may enter TT on a flight, using the Advanced Passenger Information.
Khan said he has asked the NOC to review this to determine “how one is ‘flagged’” for suspicion of having come into contact with an Ebola patient or of possible having the deadly disease.
The need for such, he said, was made very clear to him after an October 7 incident at Piarco International Airport in which a Nigerian man was detained on arrival on suspicion of having Ebola, reportedly because he was a citizen of an affected country.