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Novel coronavirus-free, Maldives takes precautionary measures

Shahudha Mohamed
27 January 2020, MVT 08:54
Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen speaking at a press conference. PHOTO: MIHAARU
Shahudha Mohamed
27 January 2020, MVT 08:54

Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen announced on Sunday that no suspected cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been detected in Maldives as of yet.

Speaking at a press conference held at the Health Ministry, the minister clarified that some tourists with flu-like symptoms such as fever were questioned, but did not meet the profile for a suspect case.

The Ministry further assured that all new developments would be shared with the public immediately upon receiving, along with the challenges faced by the health sector in tackling a possible outbreak.

"If we recognise a suspected case or if anyone tests positive for the virus, we will immediately inform the public", Minister Ameen said.

According to the minister, Maldives is fully prepared to handle suspect cases and assured that the state is following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on dealing with such cases.

In addition to the measures currently in place, additional preparations are underway with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's input, said the minister.

Minister Ameen stated that the state is currently arranging nearby Fonadhoo, Kaafu Atoll, to be utilised as an isolation facility if the need arises.

Moreover, the isolation facility in Hulhumalé is now equipped with all the necessary facilities as well. The state has also set up arrangements for laboratory samples to be sent abroad for testing if a suspected case is identified.

The quarantine facility in Hulhumalé is designated to treat walk-in patients and admitted patients. In addition, a special unit is currently being established at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) to treat patients that need critical care.

The minister guaranteed that screening for the virus will be further strengthened in the future, especially in Velana International Airport (VIA) and Addu International Airport (AIA), which are the two main entry points for Chinese tourists.

"We are aiming to further improve the screening process. Since the thermal camera at the airport can only detect body temperature, we will ask the initial questions based on that. First, we will investigate to identify whether the individual is a suspected case and requires testing for the disease", he said.

Authorities speculate that the rumours currently being shared on social media may have been about patients that were questioned although they were not carrying the virus.

As of now, Health Ministry confirms that two tourists have been stopped at VIA for questioning and two others were questioned at a resort. Health Protection Agency (HPA) states that a total of six individuals have been subjected to questioning so far.

Requesting cooperation from the public, Minister Ameen noted that many individuals may be questioned during the upcoming days as well. HPA's Medical Officer Fathimath Nazla stated that patients with fever may be asked about their travel history including the destinations visited and the timestamps.

"These questions are asked to determine whether the individual fits the criteria for a suspected case. However, [being questioned] does not mean that the individual is a suspected case", she added.

A call centre has been established to receive any reports of suspected cases and HPA noted that guidelines have been shared with relevant officials in the tourism sector on how to proceed in case a patient is thought to be carrying the novel coronavirus.

According to the Health Minister, measures are set in place to facilitate transfers of diagnosed patients, in insolation, to other health care institutions.

Minister Ameen assured that, following HPA's risk assessment, Maldives has become and currently is, prepared to handle any situation that may arise in connection to the coronavirus, apart from a mass outbreak.

However, attempts are currently underway to raise the preparation level to handle this scenario as well.

The minister stated that State Trading Organisation (STO) will have 400,000 face masks in stock by this Wednesday to ensure there is no shortage in case of an outbreak.

Authorities reiterated that while there is no need to panic in the current situation, the public is advised to practice proper hygiene, such as frequent hand washing and covering one's nose and mouth while sneezing. As the virus mainly spreads through droplets in the air, the aforementioned precautionary measures reduce risk of infection considerably.

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