As the region continues to struggle with the Zika virus Cayman’s tourism industry is already feeling the negative impact of the epidemic as Tourism Minister Hon Moses Kirkconnell says his ministry has already registered cancellations because of the mosquito-borne virus.
Fortunately to date there have been no recorded cases of the Zika virus here and the Tourism Minister has expressed confidence that Cayman’s Health Services initiatives to control the virus will help boost tourist arrivals and reduce any further negative fallout.
“If I had to [rate] it [the Zika virus] on a scale of one to ten, is it a ten challenge? No. It is more like another one of those other issues. We do have confidence in the Health Services to manage it. Do we see it as a risk? I think that is too strong a word. We certainly see it as a challenge to our tourism,” Minister Kirkconnell said as he spoke with The Cayman Reporter on Monday (15 February.)
Last week the Mosquito and Research Control Unit (MRCU), announced that on Monday 1 February, it commenced its plan of action in destroying the breeding sites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and preventing the potential threat of the Zika virus in the Cayman Islands.
Dr William Petrie, Director of MRCU, said his staff launched the first of two phases in combatting the mosquito population with aerial spraying and a full fleet of vehicle-mounted fogging machines at the ground level.
Phase one, he said, will deal with the situation prior to the virus being introduced while phase two will be enacted only if Zika is detected locally.
Minister Kirkconnell , speaking with The Cayman Reporter about the virus and its impact, explained that even though there are no cases of the virus here the Ministry has already “seen some cancelations from it and what we hope is with our strategies that we will see less cancellations.”
He said that he believes that the virus “will not be as problematic” here as it is as places such as “Brazil or other countries in the region that are having an epidemic, so to speak.”
However Mr Kirkconnell hastened to reiterate, “We do believe that it is a challenge.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a coordinated and multi-sectoral response to the virus through an inter-agency Strategic Response Framework focusing on response, surveillance and research on the virus.
It has been declared an international public health emergency.
According to the WHO 39 countries have reported locally acquired circulation of the virus since January 2007 and geographical distribution of the virus has steadily expanded.
Growing concern for pregnant women affected by the virus has spread as there has been a marked increase in birth defects associated with infection.
“Six countries (Brazil, French Polynesia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Suriname) have reported an increase in the incidence of cases of microcephaly and/or Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in conjunction with an outbreak of the Zika virus. Puerto Rico and Martinique have reported cases of GBS associated with Zika virus infection without an increase of incidence. No scientific evidence to date confirms a link between Zika virus and microcephaly or GBS,” the WHO’s latest situation report on the virus stated.
New reports have surfaced pointing to a link between microcephaly, which is when a baby is born with a small head or the head stops growing after birth, and the pesticide being used in South America to combat the virus.
Mr Kirkconnell said despite the cancellations government has been receiving positive feedback from its response to the virus.
“The comments we have gotten is that Cayman is well ahead of curve in how we are responding to this and we have to look at this from a regional stand point that we do everything that we could possibly do to manage the virus. As the Health Services have done, they make public what they are doing so Tourism then takes that and tries to inform our guests that are coming,” Minister Kirkconnell said.
Earlier this month Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin, during a media briefing on the Zika Virus and the Health Ministry’s response to the virus, also assured that effective mechanisms are in place to combat the virus if it were to reach Cayman. “Cayman is no stranger to mosquito-borne diseases. We were well prepared in combatting Dengue and Chikungunya and we are now confident that we will have control of Zika if it reaches our shores. I want to emphasise that the Zika virus is not yet in Cayman, but given our proximity to Jamaica and Central America, in all likelihood the virus will find its way here in the coming months,” the Premier said.
Symptoms of the Zika virus are similar to those of Dengue and Chikungunya which includes fever, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, nausea and rash. There is no treatment for the virus.