Coronavirus (COVID-19) – St Helena Preparedness Update

  • Prevention
  • Information about COVID-19
  • Additional screening measures at OR Tambo International Airport
  • Keeping up-to-date

The COVID-19 virus outbreak is evolving quickly – the virus epidemic now having spread to a number of new countries over the last week with South Africa confirming its first positive case of COVID-19 on 5 March 2020.  

Keeping St Helena safe is our priority and we would like to reassure you that we have deployed all resources into preparing and responding to any threat to the Island from COVID-19. The situation is constantly being monitored to ensure that the preventive measures in place are working, and processes are regularly updated to reflect changing circumstances. The Health Directorate continues to work closely with Public Health England and the World Health Organization on the spread of COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to prevent the virus from reaching the Island.

Yesterday, Councillors agreed the following additional measures with immediate effect:

  • We will restrict access to the Island from all visitors who have travelled in the last 14 days, to or within any Country which has been designated as Category 1. These countries are currently Wuhan City and Hubei Province (China), Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea) and Italy. This list will be kept under review and updated as circumstances change. The decision will be reviewed after three months. Strict screening measures remain in place for all other visitors to the Island.
  • We will restrict all cruise ship visits to the Island. This decision will also be reviewed after three months.

The Health Directorate continues to strongly advise anyone intending to travel to a country or an area of a country where Covid-19 has been identified, to take precautions and to be aware that when returning to St Helena they will be screened accordingly.

If you have recently arrived or returned to St Helena and you have developed symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath, you should immediately:

  • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu
  • Call the Health Directorate to inform them of your recent travel and to what country

SHG has restricted official travel for all officers, additionally Councillors have made the decision to cancel their attendance at the Joint Ministerial Council meeting to be held in London later this month.

We are working to source critical equipment and supplies to support the anticipated additional demands on the Health Service. We have reprioritised our Technical Cooperation budget to procure additional medical staff and this week you will see an advert asking people with Health experience, to register their names with our HR Directorate.

We are developing plans to support people who are requested to self-isolate where necessary, this includes making sure they have access to food and essential supplies.

We wish to reassure you that at this time there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 on the Island.

Prevention

While strong practical measures are being taken to prevent the virus getting here, we must be realistic that no system is infallible. A key challenge for us is that we cannot yet conduct conclusive testing for COVID-19 on the Island. A COVID-19 finger prick test will arrive in the next two weeks, and a more advanced test kit is expected on-Island in the next two months.

If the virus is detected on the Island, we can expect the likely impacts of infection:

  • For the majority of those infected this will be a mild illness with symptoms such as a cough, fever, and little else
  • For a small number, potentially between 5-10% of those infected, illness may be felt more seriously, leading to more severe ill effects
  • For an even smaller number, likely to be between 1-3% of who become infected, the impact could be extremely serious.

Those over 65 years of age, and those with chronic heart or chest disease (including asthma needing regular treatment), diabetes, cancer and other immune related disorders are the individuals most at risk of developing serious complications as a result of contracting COVID-19. The Children & Adults Social Care Directorate are developing and implementing additional measures to protect our elderly and vulnerable people.

It is possible that we will need to consider ‘social distancing’ policies including discouraging large gatherings. This coupled with good hand/cough hygiene will help to protect the Island for some time.

Information about COVID-19

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through contact with an infected person, normally generated through coughs or sneezes or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Infection with COVID-19 can cause mild symptoms similar to other flu-like viruses, for example a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever.

If you become ill with any of these symptoms do not go to the Hospital. Instead call the hospital for advice on these dedicated phone numbers: 25707

Self-isolate at home and await advice from Hospital staff.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub if your hands are not visibly dirty
  • CATCH IT, KILL IT, BIN IT – When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue to prevent the spread of germs and viruses. Discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with a virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer a virus from the surface to yourself
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.

As is to be expected with the ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, we are aware there is currently a short supply of hand sanitiser on the Island. However it should be noted that simple hand washing for at least 20 seconds is more effective than sanitising hand gel.

If the time comes that COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed on St Helena it is important that individuals follow these steps:

  • Don’t panic – this is a mild, self-limiting infection for almost all of us
  • Self-isolate as soon as possible and call, do not visit, the hospital using the dedicated phone number: 25707
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Stay away from crowds and keep your distance from others.
  • Keep informed via our regular updates.
  • Keep up other healthy lifestyle practices. The healthier you are, the healthier your immune system is.

Additional Screening measures at OR Tambo International Airport

We have been informed that Port Health at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg has implemented additional screening measures and all passengers travelling through OR Tambo can now expect to go through a minimum of two Port Health screening points before reaching Immigration Control. 

All passengers including those going through transit are screened by an infrared thermometer and/or a thermal scanner.

Measures and flights for additional screening at OR Tambo are continuously reviewed to reflect changing circumstances.

Keeping up-to-date

We will keep you abreast of the situation and the preventive measures put in place through a weekly news release and regular radio interviews.

A ‘live’ Question and Answer page is available on the SHG website at the following link: https://www.sainthelena.gov.sh/coronavirus-COVID-19-live-qa/. You are encouraged to visit this webpage as a first stop for any questions you have on COVID-19 and St Helena.

Anyone with concerns on a particular issue relating to COVID-19 that is not already covered in the Q&A should contact: marco.yon@helanta.co.sh.

#StHelena #Coronavirus #COVID-19 #AltogetherHealthier

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SHG

11 March 2020

St Helena Government Press Office

Telephone: 22470
Email: liam.yon@sainthelena.gov.sh