Some Caribbean community governments are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak of the Ebola virus, knowing full well that a single confirmed case in the region could significantly affect its lifeline tourism industry.
Among those appearing to be proactive with the issue is oil- and gas-rich Trinidad. Health Minister Fuad Khan said the country remains on full alert, and like others in the 15-nation bloc, it is moving to screen incoming passengers for fevers and any sign of the deadly disease.
Khan has also touched on a topic that could be considered simply unthinkable given the millions of dollars Carnival brings into the economy and the extent to which it is etched into the national cultural, social and economic fabric of the society.
The leading Express newspaper reported Khan as saying this week that, for the time being, there is no need to cancel the island’s world-class, famous annual Carnival celebrations, but it could become a real possibility if the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization declares that there is such a need.
People on the island of 1.3 million take their Carnival celebrations seriously, flying from the four corners of the globe to participate in the celebration, which formally starts the day after Christmas and culminates on the Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday with prayers in Catholic churches.
Likewise, Lincoln Douglas, Khan’s cabinet colleague responsible for the arts, said, “If Ebola becomes a threat to the country, then government will have to take the necessary steps. I have always had conversations with carnival associations. That is given. We will meet.”
The National Carnival Bands Association has noted that its players might have no choice but to follow official guidelines because the virus appears to be spreading to different parts of the globe, including Europe. The strict Carnival schedule was last postponed or interfered with in 1972 because of a polio outbreak. A special hospital unit has been prepared to deal with any cases, Khan said.
Meanwhile, up the island chain in Antigua, authorities said that they would soon acquire infrared digital laser thermometers to screen incoming passengers for fevers.
“We will be purchasing the equipment. We have made the decision that it will be done. The fact of the matter is this is an evolving development. I think three weeks ago, you would not find in the United States anybody would be thinking of screening because it was not yet in the U.S. Since then, the security measures have evolved,” Health Minister Molwyn Joseph said.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said her island has stepped up the level of planning and preparations for Ebola and asked Jamaicans to be alert and cooperate with authorities.
“I know that many Jamaicans are understandably very concerned about the global situation involving the Ebola virus, but we are doing everything to prepare and protect our nation. Jamaicans are being encouraged to take action as part of our personal responsibility in this situation. Avoid travelling to Ebola-affected countries and regions, and truthfully declare your travel history when arriving and departing the island.”
She spoke of a special $50 million fund to tackle Ebola and the Chikungunya virus, which has been rampaging through the region, afflicting thousands.