The information made the national news late last night but after it aired, the social media was abuzz with speculations and not to say the least, fear that the deadly Ebola virus had reached, close to home. The media got wind of the situation in the evening, but we learned in a press conference today that government had been dealing with the matter since morning.

 

The Ebola scare in the last twenty-four hours, we hope, turns out to be just that, as officials are saying - that the person onboard the Carnival cruise ship was “low risk” and showed no symptoms of the disease. So now, we follow the story from the start as information has been forthcoming. In a release from the Carnival Cruise Lines, it states that the Center for Disease Control informed them that a guest on board the Carnival Magic, which was headed to Belize, was listed by the center as “very low risk”.

 

The person here is a female health care provider who works at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. She had apparently come in contact with an Ebola patient back in the US. According to the cruise line release, the woman exhibited no symptoms and that it had been nineteen days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. The guest and her companion were placed in isolation on the ship and were not deemed a risk to the other guests on board. Still the ship’s medical team treated the situation with an extreme abundance of caution.

 

In a press conference held this morning with the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow; the CEO in his office, Audrey Wallace; CEO in the Ministry of Immigration, Godwin Hulse; and CEO in the Ministry of Health, Peter Allen, officials clarified what transpired on Thursday and spoke on measures taken in any eventuality that the virus finds its way into the country. CEO Wallace said it started with a phone call to the Office of the Prime Minister at about nine-forty in the morning from the US State Department in Washington DC.

 

This was followed with a conference call with the department, a medical officer and representatives of the US Embassy. CEO Wallace stressed first and foremost that the person who was the subject of the emergency was not an Ebola patient.

 

Screen_Shot_2014-10-17_at_8.20.57_PMAudrey Wallace – CEO, Office of Prime Minister


"That we are not dealing with an Ebola patient. The passenger in question is a healthcare provider who works at the Presbyterian Hospital which treated an Ebola patient. The passenger had no signs or symptoms of illness. We have checked this with health authorities here at home and internationally and have been advised and reminded that you must have direct contact with bodily fluids of infected persons who shows symptoms if you are to get transmission of this virus. Now the passenger in question had voluntarily entered quarantine on the ship and has not been allowed to step foot in Belize."


 

The office of the Prime Minister was informed that the case was low risk, yet there was a deep urgency to get her and her companion back to the US for active monitoring by the CDC.

 

Audrey Wallace – CEO, Office of Prime Minister

 

“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. According to the CDC, the maximum incubation period for the disease is 21 days. I was then ask for the government to allow the passenger and her companion to disembark and flown out of the PGIA 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.”


Getting the health care official back to the US was imperative for US health officials and government and thus suggested that they be flown out of the country from the Phillip Goldson International Airport. The Prime Minister was informed after ten in the morning and he got into consultations with health officials and the coast guard on the logistics of moving the passengers with the least possible risk to Belizeans. The government officials also consulted international health regulations in the matter. His ultimate conclusion was that they would not proceed with any such action.

 

Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize


“Very clearly the logistics of such an operation in my view would have exposed Belizean health workers, Belizean security agents, Belizean front line officials. I accepted the absolute good faith of the US in saying to us that the risk is almost none existent but there had to be some risk in fact confirmed by their anxiety in getting the person in whom they were interested quickly out of Belize and into the US. It is clear that even in the US with all their capacity, with all their expertise there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to how this thing gets transmitted and with respect to the last two nurses that became ill there doesn’t seem to be any certainty as to what protocols were breeched and clearly in terms of the Centers for Disease Control their response, their approach their treatment of the issue seems to be a work in progress very unfortunate. I repeat we have utter and complete sympathy for the United States and problematic nature of what is unfolding their but I have to be first and foremost concerned about Belize, my country, your country, our people."

 

At one in the afternoon the US informed government that a plane they had intended to arrive to retrieve the passengers was delayed and suggested they stay overnight in a quarantined area until Friday, today.  The PM’s answer was “no”.  By four in the evening the US Embassy personnel called again to inform that an aircraft was leaving to Belize but the PM’s position stood. This flight was confirmed by five in the evening. At this point, the US Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in and called the Prime Minister on the matter. The PM said that several options were suggested but he stood to his initial response of not proceeding with any plan that could expose Belizeans to any risk, however small.

 

Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize

 

“He insisted that there really was no threat and I would not be putting Belizeans at any real risk. I stuck to my line which was that in the circumstances we could not take any chances. He did ask whether I would consider, whether I would explore the possibility of their sending a helicopter that would land on the deck of the cruise ship and then take the two passengers straight across to the P.G.I.A. In other words, he thought that an option could be explored that would mean that no Belizean would come into any kind of contact at all with these passengers. I said well have your people tell us what would be the logistics of that. That alternative was not…the tender would be handled by the carnival personnel, bring the passengers to the Fort Street Tourism, an embassy car would pick them up and take them to the airport. I said but those tenders are Belizean they are operated by Belizean operators and they remain in Belize so the alternative suggestion was the life boat. That would go back to the ship be handled by carnival personnel, go back to the ship and so there would be no question of any possible contamination. But that will still leave the US driver and the embassy vehicle. I want to repeat yet again that if it had been at all possible to do this thing in a way that could have absolutely eliminate any possibility of any risk to Belizeans I would have been willing., The fact is after the most anxious consideration I concluded that the original position had to stand. Because I could not let the circumstances be possible to do what the Americans were asking without exposing some Belizeans to some degree of risk.”

 

The aircraft that had left the US to fly the passengers out of Belize arrived but eventually was forced to leave empty. By ten thirty last night, the Belize Coast Guard escorted the Cruise ship out of Belizean waters.

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