Travellers from high-risk countries can be refused entry or quarantined – CMO

By Shemuel Fanfair

The World Health Organisation has published a list of mainly African and South American territories in which there is risk of transmitting the yellow fever virus. On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Shamdeo Persaud, in a Public Health Ministry press conference disclosed new guidelines with regard to the immunisation of citizens for yellow fever. The CMO explained that Guyana is prepared to quarantine or refuse travellers from high risk countries if they cannot produce a certificate of immunisation.
“If you are coming from the countries where this outbreak is going on, you are required to get a vaccine to enter Guyana, we will stop them at the airport, we will insist that they have a valid certificate,” he noted.
Dr Persaud reasoned that this hard-lined approached is necessary since Guyana has the ideal conditions for yellow fever to flourish.
“If only one person arrived from one of those countries… [and] are infected and… subsequently develop an active infection, you know what trouble that can lead us to,” the CMO pondered.
Some of the countries at risk listed include Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Angola, Botswana and French Guiana.
“If symptoms occurred [in the six day incubation period], then the person is free… if someone is coming from Angola for example, where we know there were cases of deaths, we want to be a little bit more careful with monitoring that person,” Dr Persaud observed.
When questioned over the risk that citizens who are returning home from the “endemic” countries pose on transmission of the virus, the CMO pointed out that while citizens cannot be refused entry, they can however be quarantined.
“Once they arrive here, we usually keep monitoring them; we have system because we cannot refuse entry to Guyanese; we follow them up for the signs and symptoms like we did with Ebola and other diseases… if we have someone from a very high risk country we might very well need to quarantine in the true sense,” he noted.
Dr Persaud further observed that there is a small unit at the Georgetown Public Hospital in which this measure can be facilitated.
He stressed that the incubation period for the virus is six days, after which a person can be deemed as safe from transmitting it. Persaud also stated that a vaccination card is different from a certificate of immunisation. The certificates, which carry a $1000 fee, can be obtained after you have received the vaccination. Sites where the certificates are issued are the Public Health Ministry and St Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in Georgetown; Suddie Public Hospital in Essequibo and at New Amsterdam and Lethem.

The CMO also stressed that all vaccines are procured by the Government of Guyana and are “free of cost.”
“Persons will be required to pay $1000 fee for the certificate. However, persons over 65 and under five years are exempt from payment,” he noted.
He also observed that the new standard for immunisation as directed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states the once a person has taken the yellow vaccine once in their lifetime, they would be issued with an international certificate, and as such, will not be required to take another dosage. Previously, individuals had to take the yellow fever vaccine once every 10 years.
Dr Persaud pointed out that Guyana has not had a fatality from yellow fever in over 35 years. “We are advising travellers to take the vaccine 10 days before travel,” he noted.
“A lot of persons were saying that their cards were misplaced or they were taken at the points of entry by the receiving country and not returned to them but please insist on retaining your certificates; keep it with your passport as part of your documentation as you travel, especially if travelling to multiple countries,” the CMO advised.
Public Health Ministry representative, Dr Oneka Scott stated “A lot of persons have been turning up at the airport demanding that they be given certificates from the airport medex but they cannot issue certificates.”
According to the WHO, the yellow fever vaccination is intended to “prevent the international spread of the disease by protecting countries from the risk of importing or spreading the yellow fever virus [and] to protect individual travellers who may be exposed to yellow fever infection.”