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Government: “Abundance of caution” led to Ebola evacuation refusal

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Prime Minister's Press Conference

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2014. 10:45 pm CST.

Prime Minister's Press Conference

Prime Minister’s Press Conference

Friday, October 17, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: CEO in the Office of the Prime Minister Audrey Wallace and her boss Dean Barrow have said that the request of the United States Government to have Belize help evacuate an unnamed lab specialist from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to the United States via the Philip Goldson International Airport was treated with the most anxious consideration.

This in light of the “great sympathy” Belize has for the Ebola virus situation in that country.

However, there was no way that could be found that would successfully keep Belizeans from unnecessary contact with the quarantined individual, despite her showing low risk for the virus after 17 days under watch.

At a press briefing held today in Belize City, Wallace chronicled the timeline of events on Thursday which primarily featured back and forth phone calls between GOB, the local American embassy and later in the day, a one-on-one between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Prime Minister.

The Government was first informed of the ship’s arrival and the situation with the affected individual and her companion around 9:40 a.m., by which time most of the ship’s other passengers had disembarked.

At the time it was thought that an American medevac plane would be sent to Belize to pick up the affected woman, who had already been isolated on the ship for a period and showed no signs of symptoms associated with Ebola.

However, when around 1:00 p.m. it was clear that the plane could not come until the next day – that is, today, Friday – the Government called off the effort, which would have involved the Coast Guard shepherding a tender to the Vista del Mar area and then loading an ambulance to bring the persons to the Airport.

Later on, the plane was made available and actually landed in Belize despite the Government’s insistence that it could not help evacuate the person.

Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Barrow discussed other options, including landing a helicopter on the cruise ship deck, or tendering the individual into Fort Street Tourism Village and a waiting Embassy vehicle, but no suitable solution could be found and the U.S. Embassy backed off.

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic

The ship left Belize around 10:30 p.m. Thursday and at last report (according to The Washington Post) is headed back to its home port of Galveston, Texas after Mexican officials denied entry at the port of Cozumel.

Even though the woman never set foot on Belizean soil, there are concerns about whether she got into contact with any tourists or Belizeans aboard the ship and the Government has indicated that while little is known about how Ebola is spread if the person does not manifest symptoms past the 21-day incubation period, there is nothing to indicate such.

In any event, Belize remains free of Ebola, and to keep it that way, the Government today announced a ban on travelers coming to Belize from any of these West African countries where Ebola is rampant: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. While Nigeria has declared itself free of Ebola its citizens require visas to visit Belize and Minister of Immigration Godwin Hulse said they would not offer these.

The Ministries of Health and Immigration are coordinating efforts to screen passengers at the Philip Goldson International Airport and at the cruise port where passports of visiting persons will be scanned and those coming from West Africa in the last 30 days will be denied entry.

Personal protective kits left over from the H1N1 swine flu scare of 2010 will be used until the standard Ebola-approved kits are bought.

About 750 of these have been ordered by the Ministry of Health.

10 new public health inspectors will also be hired.

Prime Minister Barrow said he did not foresee any repercussions from the Government’s sovereign refusal, as the U.S. and Belizean authorities are cooperating to halt the advance of Ebola, which has now killed over 4,000 people in West Africa and one man in the U.S.

 

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