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Oct 17, 2014

Ebola Scare Off the Coast of Belize City!

The possibility of a threat from the deadly Ebola virus placed the nation on edge on Thursday night, but tonight there is a sigh of relief. The scare started when it became known that a lab technician who may have had contact with fluids from Ebola victim, Thomas Eric Duncan, was travelling on the Carnival Magic which had sailed into Belize in the morning and was anchored at Stake Bank Caye. Some of the passengers had disembarked, but the technician and a travelling companion were self quarantined. The Prime Minister became aware of the situation at about nine-thirty a.m.; the hours that followed were full of anxiety and there was pressure from the U.S., who wanted the couple brought to shore and airlifted from the P.G.I.A.  Tonight, we look at the many fronts of this story starting with our coverage of the cruise ship’s arrival.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A seven-night Western Caribbean cruise which departed Galveston, Texas on Sunday called to port in Belize on Thursday morning, after leaving Mahogany Bay, Honduras several hours earlier.

 

Tracy Panton, C.E.O., Ministry of Tourism

Tracy Panton

“Yesterday, we had just a little over thirty-seven hundred passengers and crew onboard.”

 

Also on the Carnival Magic was an unidentified passenger, an employee of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, whom it is believed may have had contact with specimen from now deceased Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan.

 

Tracy Panton

“Traditionally, we have eighty-five percent disembarkation rate from the ship.”

 

While a majority of those visitors landed at the Fort Street Tourism Village, the traveler, as well as another unnamed individual, for health and safety reasons, voluntarily isolated themselves from the ship’s population.  Sometime later, an overseas phone call was placed to C.E.O. Audrey Wallace.

 

Audrey Wallace

Audrey Wallace, C.E.O., Ministry of Finance

“The Office of the Prime Minister received a call advising that the [US] State Department would like to have an urgent call with the C.E.O. in the Office of the Prime Minister.  That call came in at 9:40 a.m. and it was a conference call that included the US State Department in Washington, where a doctor was online, the US Embassy in Belize and myself.  I was informed that a healthcare worker from the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who was listed as low-risk for Ebola by the Center for Disease Control in the United States was onboard a Carnival cruise ship that landed in Belize in the morning.”

 

The exposed staffer, who may have handled Duncan’s bodily fluids eighteen days ago, is yet to exhibit symptoms of the deadly virus.  However, in the wake of several mistakes made by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in dealing with Duncan’s case, there has been a significant change in approach.

 

Audrey Wallace

“They explained that the CDC had updated its requirements from self monitoring for these low-risk persons to active monitoring which would require them to be in the United States to be monitored.  They explained that the employee had been checking daily for a temperature or any other symptom of the disease and had none.  The doctors on the cruise ship examined her and confirmed that she had no temperature or any other sign or symptoms.  The healthcare worker, along with her traveling companion agreed to self quarantine on the ship.  I was further advised that it had been seventeen days since the worker would have possibly been exposed to the Ebola virus.”

 

With an incubation period of up to twenty-one days, she would still not have been free of consequences from exposure to the Ebola virus.  That being said, a request was made by the U.S. State Department to have them medevaced from the Phillip Goldson International Airport.

 

Audrey Wallace

“I was then asked for the government to allow the passenger and her companion to disembark and flown out of the P.G.I.A. on a private plane.  They explained that they were taking this action out of an abundance of caution and not because anyone was at risk.  I informed them that I would get back in touch.  The prime minister was informed of the situation and the request.  Immediately he expressed deep concern over facilitating the movement of the two passengers from the cruise ship to the P.G.I.A. although fully aware that the disease can be spread only when an Ebola patient is sick.  He was most concerned about exposing any Belizean to any potential risk, no matter how farfetched it may be.”

 

Notwithstanding those concerns, immigration officers at the port of entry at FSTV were tasked with handling the pair’s travel documents.  That was done under strict instructions.

 

Maria Marin, Director of Immigration

Maria Marin

“The immigration officer was advised at all times not to have any handling of the passport.”

 

Meanwhile, discussions were being held with health and coast guard officials to examine the possibilities of the initial request.

 

Audrey Wallace

“The Office of the Prime Minister sought the advice of the Ministry of Health and subsequently entered discussions with them and the coast guard to explore the logistics of moving the two passengers in a way that would pose no risk to any Belizean.”

 

When those possibilities were all exhausted and found not to be satisfactory, Prime Minister Barrow would adamantly decline the request of the U.S. State Department, despite a personal appeal from Secretary of State John Kerry. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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