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Gov’t rules out bringing home Guyanese students from coronavirus-stricken China

Minister of the Public Service, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley has ruled out government bringing home Guyanese from China where they are studying because they are much safer indoors than travelling several days and being quarantined.

“Government is not putting plans in place to bring students home. After listening and hearing what’s happening in China and examining our own situation in Guyana we decided it’s best for them to remain there because the more movement the more the possibility of exposure to the virus. Staying put in the hostel significantly reduces the likelihood of contracting the virus,” she was quoted as saying in a news release following a meeting with parents and representatives of students studying in China.

Government says there are 50 China-Guyana students, 10 of whom are not in that southeast Asian country.

A team of government officials earlier Saturday met with parents and other representatives of Guyana-China scholars, at the Training Division of the Department of Public Service, Ministry of the Presidency, Vlissengen Road and D’urban Street, Lodge.

The team consisted of Minister Sarabo-Halley, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Public Service, Soyinka Grogan, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shamdeo Persaud and Director of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Forbes July.

In addition, Minister Sarabo-Halley assured that the decision made to let the students remain in China was not made unilaterally but came after a meeting on Thursday among the Ministers of Public Health, State, Foreign Affairs, Citizenship and Department of Public Service along with senior technical officers from the respective ministries and the head of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) in Guyana. The decision took into consideration advice received from the Chinese Ambassador to Guyana, local and regional medical practitioners.

Minister of the Public Service, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley.

The Minister said all things considered it is the reasoned conclusion that it is best for the students to remain in China at this time.

“They have everything; they know what to do if the virus is contracted and so that is the best place for them at the current stage because once they start moving we don’t know what will happen.”

Minister Sarabo-Halley also pointed out that while government remains concerned it is recognized that there will be difficulties should attempts be made to bring the students home whether by government or their relatives since they will have to be quarantined at various transit points.

“For them to move from one province to the other to get out is a 14-day wait. Fourteen-day quarantine period and that could happen for a while before they actually get out. So, it’s not that the government doesn’t care about the students. We have taken that into consideration.”

Among the several concerns raised by parents and other representatives of the students were the lack of adequate supplies for the students who are currently restricted to their place of residence and the sparsity of information. To these, Minister Sarabo-Halley committed that herself and other members of the team of government representatives will endeavor to collect and disseminate accurate information on the situation as it pertains to each student currently in China on Government of Guyana/Government of China scholarships.

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer explained to those present that the confirmed deaths from the virus are mostly among persons who were already of poor health.

“The virus is not an aggressive one like Ebola… most of the persons who succumbed who get very sick and die are older persons and what they have also noted all of them are above 55 years and most of these people who also have poor morbidity, or underlying conditions. They are diabetics, they have kidney problems, they have lung problems, they have noted that a lot, about 33 percent of them already had smokers’ complications in their lung. So, most of these people already had a high risk and most of them even if they get the regular flu virus some of them will sometimes succumb too,” Persaud said.

In addition, he said that there are currently 18 countries outside of China which have registered cases of the virus for which vaccines are currently being developed. He reiterated that the students are better off remaining in China during this period of the coronavirus outbreak.

Further, Dr Persaud said surveillance systems have been established at the various ports of entry locally and suspected victims will be quarantined in keeping with internationally-recognized standards.

“What we have at the two airports, Moleson Creek and the various ports is if we identify someone that is coughing we put a mask on that person to prevent them from dropping the droplets around the environment. Once we get the person into isolation. So far we have two sites that we have developed one at Georgetown Hospital and we have a small area at Diamond. Last night we were also told both Ogle and Timehri will have a separate room… to conduct our examinations.”

Meanwhile, Fariz Khan, an obstetrician who has been working in the local health sector for the last decade and himself a master’s student says his sister is currently pursuing her master’s in China. He encouraged those present to recognise the advice being given as the best in the current circumstances. He also reminded of previous outbreaks of viruses such as Zika, Ebola, H1N1, and SARS.

“All of these things pass through the entire world but we are kicking up a big fight against the coronavirus… because the media… As far as I’m concerned, we should give a hand to China. They are doing a very good response to this thing… quarantining people, putting hospitals in place et cetera… I think the control of this virus is being done far better than any of the diseases that ravaged the entire world. Right now the ministry has put more measures in place to control the coronavirus than has ever been done to combat any disease that passed through. I have been in the system for at least ten years and all of the diseases that I mentioned have passed through. Have you ever heard of such preparations? No. My take is what I want for my sister is for her to remain exactly where she is. I think she is getting the best health care right now…. I don’t want her to move because the moment she moves … any travelling, bus, airplane… I’m talking just about to get out of the country… every country she moves to she’s is going to get quarantined. If she comes home to Guyana, her home, she’s going to get quarantined. That is not politics. It is medicine.”