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Jan 28, 2020

False Alarm: Coronavirus Scare on Caye Caulker; No Cases in Belize

As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, there was a huge scare in Caye Caulker on Monday night when reports spread like wildfire that a visiting Chinese national was experiencing the symptoms of the novel virus. The reports were dispelled by this morning, when information from the Ministry of Heath, confirmed that the visitor had been screened and was in the clear and there is no threat at this time.  Health officials met this morning in Belmopan and are advising the public to take the necessary measures to keep safe. Here is News Five’s Duane Moody with a report.


Duane Moody, Reporting

The coronavirus outbreak was first detected in December in Wuhan, China. It is being categorized as a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumps from animals to humans. Scientists have linked the cause of coronavirus to the consumption of wildlife such as bats and snakes.  Reports from China are that approximately one hundred persons have died as a result of the virus and thousands more have fallen ill.  In the past few days, the novel virus has also been discovered in the U.S. after a patient began exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Since then, several suspected cases have popped up across other countries, namely Colombia and Mexico. The virus can complicate any situation in a patient that might have a chronic disease.


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“It’s the common flu symptoms: dry cough, fever, body aches; that’s what is being documented as more information becomes available that it may be other symptoms. That’s one. Two, when we review the mortality situation, we found out that most of the patients that had died had other chronic diseases—diabetes, hypertension—and it seemed to be older patients that were dying. I think the average of those when we reviewed data last week was sixty-five.”


The Ministry of Health in Belize has activated its National Surveillance Team to monitor the coronavirus outbreak and that led to the detection of a suspected case on the island of Caye Caulker. A tourist from Beijing, China arrived in the country on January twenty-seventh and exhibited flu-like symptoms. Officials from the Chinese Association, the village council, supported by police, and health personnel were activated.


Melinda Guerra

Melinda Guerra, Regional Health Manager, Central Health Region

“We carried out a full investigation on this case. The patient is a young man visiting from Beijing, China. He arrived at the Philip Goldson International Airport and went straight to Caye Caulker.  The rumours were out there that this patient had signs and symptoms of coronavirus. So immediately we launched an investigation and the patient was examined, had a physical examination by our medical officer there, Doctor Salim, and it was determined that the patient is not ill. The patient does not have fever, cough or no signs of respiratory illness.”


According to Regional Health Manager Melinda Guerra, the visitor had been screened before leaving China, upon transiting the U.S. and at the Philip Goldson International Airport.  The Ministry of Health has been monitoring all entry points across the country with airport officials to strengthen surveillance, without travellers feeling as though they are being discriminated.


Melinda Guerra

“We have our public health inspectors on a day-to-day basis there at the airport. For right now, we have the immigration form that we are using where in that form it has the nationality of the person, the countries that person has visited and the point of origin, from where the person is actually coming. We screen the patients; we keep our officers up to date as to the countries that are presenting cases of coronavirus so that we are aware.”


In the event that a person presents symptoms similar to that of the coronavirus, how prepared is the local health system?


Melinda Guerra

“In the event that we would have any case coming from Wuhan China or any high risk place in China, then we would have to identify that patient at the airport and then we would ensure that public health authority will keep in contact with that patient for the first fourteen days, from the time he left China to those fourteen days. Why fourteen days, because usually influenza would take between three to five days and up to fourteen days to show signs and symptoms. The patient would be taken to a medical facility for isolation.”


There is strict monitoring and surveillance underway by public health officers. The Ministry of Health in Belize stresses that proper respiratory hygiene and the basic infection control practices, like washing of hands, are simple things that can prevent the spreading of the virus.


Melinda Guerra

“What we are encouraging our community and our visitors to practice hand washing. Wash your hands for twenty minutes with soap. Avoid people who are coughing, sneezing. So you try to avoid those persons and those persons who are actually sick with any kind of influenza-like illness—fever, cough, cold—try to stay at home. Get your treatment because remember right now we are still in the season for influenza; it’s just that we are having this new virus circulating. But the cough and cold is still around so you need to get your treatment.”


The Caribbean Public Health Authority, CARPHA, says that at this time, the risk of transmission to the Caribbean is low, based on what is known about the virus. Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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