Jude Édouard Pierre, leader of the National Federation of Haitian Mayors, talks to reporters in Port-au-Prince, March 13, 2020.  (Matiado Vilme/VOA)
Jude Edouard Pierre, leader of the National Federation of Haitian Mayors, talks to reporters in Port-au-Prince, March 13, 2020. His group is launching a national coronavirus public awareness campaign. (Matiado Vilme/VOA)

WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haiti’s first suspected coronavirus case has tested negative, the country's new prime minister says.

Joseph Jouthe held a news conference Friday at his official residence along with the director general of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Laure Adrien, to try to calm citizens anxious about the country’s potential first case of the deadly infection.

The health official described the tested patient as a female foreigner who had returned to Haiti after traveling to her native country, where coronavirus has spread. The woman was experiencing symptoms, which prompted concern and led to tests administered at the national laboratory in Port-au-Prince. The tests came back negative, officials said.   No further details about the patient were given. 

Cause for concern 

The prime minister also addressed a case that sparked rumors and fear among residents of the capital, regarding a group of 16 people who arrived in Haiti on Wednesday by bus from the Dominican Republic.   Minister of Public Health Marie Greta Roy Clement told VOA that the neighboring country had nine confirmed cases of the virus.

Haitian officials quarantined the bus passengers Wednesday in the neighborhood of Tabarre, after one bus passenger died before crossing the border into Haiti. Prior the death, officials said, the person exhibited coronavirus-like symptoms such as fever and coughing.   The remaining passengers were tested for the virus, and results of those lab test results were still pending. 

A passenger wears gloves to use his phone while waiting to board a flight at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, March 14, 2020, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As of Saturday, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Haiti.

Awareness campaign

Meanwhile, mayors belonging to the Federation of National Mayors (FENAHM), who represent Haiti’s 10 departments, are launching a national coronavirus public awareness campaign.

“Previous governments never made public health a priority. That’s why we don’t have adequate infrastructure to confront this virus,” FENAHM leader Jude Edouard Pierre told reporters. “So we want to help the government inform the public and we are starting today [Friday] in 146 communities nationwide.”

Pierre said they were working with the health ministry to roll out the program and were asking the government to announce broad measures that would help the nation face the pandemic.  He said officials must identify all local enterprises that sell or produce masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and oxygen; make them available to those who need them; and keep them off the black market.

“We are asking the government to act quickly to announce the names of companies operating in this sector and tell us which measures it is taking to prevent profiteering, which we have seen happen in other countries.  Black market sales have already begun here in Haiti,” Pierre said.

He also discussed future school closures and stockpiling of food items to make sure those who are quarantined have adequate sustenance should that become necessary.

“If we get hit with this virus — we are a small country. We don’t have adequate health facilities. We can expect big problems,” he said.

Cayman Islands death 

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands announced its first coronavirus death Saturday.

According to health officials, a 68-year-old Italian patient died early Saturday morning at a health facility in Health City.  He was transported into the country from a cruise ship on which he was a passenger on February 29 for critical cardiac care.  

The man originally had no COVID-19 symptoms, according to officials, but after six days he began to show flu-like symptoms and tested positive for the disease.

Yves Manuel Matiado Vilme contributed to this report.

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