Hand washing photograph by Moyo Studio/E+/Getty Images

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts (Friday 6th March 2020) –Around the world, the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing change to social customary greetings and locally, here in St. Kitts-Nevis, citizens and residents, too, are being cautioned to avoid handshakes and also encouraged to keep hand cleanness so as to reduce risk of contracting and spreading the flu-like illness.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws, at a press conference on Monday this week (2nd March 2020) at Government Headquarters, gave tips on what can be done to best protect selves for an impending outbreak of the disease which is now “a high risk” to the Federation.

“You need to avoid shaking hands. In the event that the virus is here or gets here, you need to avoid shaking hands. We need to be innovated, innovative and use alternative means of greeting our friends and loved ones.”

According to the CMO, “we can wash our hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching contaminated surfaces. You can also use 60 per cent alcohol base hand sanitizers. Hand hygiene is very, very important. Actually, the evidence tells us that this is the best weapon against this virus…hand hygiene even more so than using a face mask.”

Individuals are being directed by the top health official to use disposable gloves when handling contaminated surfaces.

Dr. Laws advised that individuals should practice not touching their face, eyes, nose and mouth.

Avoid touching your face, your eyes, nose and mouth. We subconsciously do this and so we need to start practicing from now. We need to start practicing form now. Let me repeat, we need to intentionally avoid touching our face, eyes, nose and mouth”

Additionally, she is urging individuals to stay away from others with cold or flu symptoms while asking those sick persons to cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing.

“…we want to recommend that you avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu symptoms. In other words, you are to maintain a safe distance… remaining meter of two from persons who are visibly coughing and sneezing. Persons with respiratory symptoms should cover their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing  either with a tissue that’s disposable or coughing in your flexed elbow, and it’s important that those exhibiting such symptoms that they should remain at home.”

On the topic of face masks, she pointed out that “In the case of using surgical masks as face masks, it is recommended that persons with respiratory symptoms, they are the ones who should wear these surgical masks or face masks.”

Dr. Laws told that: “Face masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning with soap and water or an alcohol based hand rub and so these are the measures you and I can take to protect ourselves against this virus.”

As highlighted by her, disease “is spread mainly via respiratory droplets and that’s respiratory droplets laden with the virus from infected persons cough and sneeze. It may also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces.

She informed by her, the most commonly reported symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath while some other symptoms include runny nose, muscles pains and aches, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eye), vomiting and diarrhoea.

“The incubation period is was originally thought to be fourteen (14) days but it can be as long as twenty four (24) days,” Dr. Hazel Laws noted.

The CMO informed that the local health system is capable of handling the coronavirus outbreak.

“COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the globe. The risk of these virus to our federation is very high. However, our health system has the capacity to detect, contain and manage this coronavirus disease outbreak.”