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How prepared are we to battle Coronavirus?

30 January 2020 03:47 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • No foreign vessel is allowed to enter the fisheries harbours without permission 
  • Chinese workers yet to return to Sri Lanka after the New Year holidays have been advised to remain in their country

The number of people infected by the novel Coronavirus 2019 (nCoV) outbreak has risen to nearly 6000 while claiming the lives of 132 people in China as at yesterday (January 29). As such countries around the world are taking precautionary steps to ensure that all citizens are safe. Airports, ports, hotels and other places frequented by visitors, mainly Chinese nationals are kept under close scrutiny. At the onset of the outbreak, a thermal scanner was installed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). Apart from that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has deployed its staff to various places to assist in-house medical officers with conducting health checks. With one positive case reported from Sri Lanka and many suspected cases currently undergoing treatment at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (IDH) it’s time for every other citizen to be on alert.  


Hence, the Daily Mirror takes a closer look at how the airport, ports, fisheries harbours and hotels are preparing to check on travellers, crew members and foreign nationals. 

Preparation at the Ports
Ports are a main point of entry and right now the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) is taking precautions to ensure that all foreign travellers are screened before entering the island. “Usually travellers in every vessel have to complete four documents before entering another land,” said a spokesman at the Port Health Office. “These include the Maritime Declaration of Health, Vaccination List (mainly for yellow fever), Crew List and Last Port of Call where they have to mention the last 10 ports they have travelled to.  If a traveller is ill, the Master of the Vessel should declare that person as sick and the health clearance is given after that. Without a clearance from the Port Health Officer no traveller would be allowed to go out to get the required medicine for any health condition. 

A school teacher wearing a mask conducts a classroom session at a school in Colombo. (AFP)


“With the coronavirus outbreak we are now checking all passengers including crew members,” he added. “They have to fill a voluntary health declaration form and have to specifically fill sections 18,19,20 which inquires where they have visited during the last 14 days, whether they have developed any flu-like symptoms and whether they have come into contact with another person having flu-like symptoms. From yesterday, we are keeping a close watch on where the vessels arrived from as well. The pilot of the ship has to inform us if the vessel has been to a very high risk area mainly China. A general announcement is also made every hour to alert the staff, workers and all employees at the Port. If someone has been tested positive he or she would be sent to IDH. The Immigration officers are helping out with the forms and we are being assisted by the Epidemiology Unit at the Ministry of Health,” he said. 

Fishery harbours on alert
The Daily Mirror also learned that it is only Sri Lankan vessels that are allowed to be docked at the fishery harbours around the island except at the Dickowita Harbour. “The Vessel Monitoring System at the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) is closely monitoring all vessels that are entering the harbours,” said S.N.B.K.S Senaratne, Additional Secretary (Admin & Human Resources), Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “No foreign vessel is allowed to enter the fishery harbours without permission. If there’s a case being reported we have taken adequate measures to conduct health checks on all passengers and crew members,” said Senaratne.  

DFAR Director General Prasanna Janaka Kumara justified this comment by saying that the MOH has already deployed its staff to these harbours. “So far no case has been reported but we are closely monitoring all vessels,” said Kumara. 

Foreign trawlers entering Lankan waters
At a press conference held last week, the All Ceylon Multiday Trawler Owners Association (ACMTOA) said that the coronavirus could enter the country due to the arrival of foreign ships manned by Chinese crew members. “They are involved in re-exporting of fish and these crews mainly include Taiwanese and Chinese individuals,” said Ruwan Fernando, General Secretary of the ACMTOA. “In most instances pumping fuel to these vessels happens at sea and nobody knows who is coming in them and what they are doing. In fact there’s no proper monitoring being done. During the past few days around six to seven of these vessels have arrived at the international dockyard,” Fernando.  

Four thermal scanners have already been installed at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). But a person would be detected only if he or she has a fever. “We are following the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended procedure and have arranged everything within a few days,” said a spokesperson at the Airport Health Office, operating under the purview of the Epidemiology Unit, Ministry of Health. “Currently we have four doctors and additional supportive staff since we have to attend to all passengers. However there is a practical difficulty in attending to all passengers due to time and space constraints. There are around 100-200 of them coming in one flight and it takes around two or three minutes to conduct a health check. But we are harbouring hopes on the President’s promise to appoint a Special Task Force to assist us with the work. I believe that the best option is to quarantine those coming from high risk countries mainly from China,” the spokesperson added.  

Right now we are training hotel staff to check temperature and any other symptoms. The Government has taken stern action with regard to  facing this health problem   

He further said that it takes seven to eight days for a viral infection to show symptoms. “Therefore the best thing is to quarantine, keep them in a separate place and if tested positive we will then send them to IDH,” he said. 

thasl Satisfied with govt. response
Hotels too are frequented by locals as well as foreign visitors. However all hotels are now taking precautionary steps to ensure that all visitors are free of symptoms. “We are following WHO guidelines because so far it hasn’t issued any warning as such,” said Tourist Hotels Association (THASL)President Sanath Ukwatte. “We have dealt with MERS and SARS before and coronavirus is a similar issue. Right now we are training hotel staff to check temperature and any other symptoms. The Government has taken stern action with regard to facing this health problem and we are happy with that. After all people don’t have to unnecessarily worry about this outbreak,” said Ukwatte. 

Update on four Sri Lankans recovering
Apart from that, it was also reported that six Sri Lankan seamen were on board a container ship that left China. These Sri Lankans who are  on their way to Gulf of Aden were having high fever two days ago. “We are being continuously updated on their status and we got to know that four of them are recovering,” said Ranjan Perera, Secretary General of National Union of Seafarers. “The other two individuals are being kept in a separate room. The captain is also a Chinese individual. The vessel has visited three ports in close proximity to Wuhan. We have instructed the harbour master and relevant officials at the Colombo Port to be strict when checking those coming from overseas, especially China,” said Perera. 

Requested to stay back
Chinese workers yet to return to Sri Lanka after the New Year holidays have been advised to remain in their country until the virus has been controlled globally. Those arriving in the country are expected to undergo a 14-day period of isolation before confirming that they are not carriers of the coronavirus and are free of any symptoms. In case that they are showing symptoms of infection they are advised to inform their relevant companies and Sri Lankan authorities. 

 

The Health Ministry also introduced a 24-hour hotline to obtain information on the coronavirus. Accordingly, people can contact the health officials via 0710 107 107 or 011 307 1073 to obtain information regarding the virus.

 

 

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