On Sunday January 24, 2021, the Ministry of Health and Wellness received confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) of 5 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 British variant diagnosed in country.
Two of the cases are British nationals who were diagnosed on December 17 and December 23, 2020. The other three cases are Saint Lucian nationals from the Dennery, Micoud and Babonneau districts and they were also diagnosed in December 2020. All five cases have since made a full recovery from the COVID-19 virus.
On December 14, 2020, the United Kingdom Public Health Agency reported a variant of SARS-CoV. The identified strain had been in circulation from September 20, 2020 within the United Kingdom. The virus has since been detected in Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia, but the risk of importation into the Caribbean and rest of the world was rated as high due to incoming travel from the United Kingdom and Europe. Cases of this new strain have since been confirmed in Caribbean islands, including Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.
It is known and expected that all viruses constantly change over time. As such, it had been anticipated that this would also obtain with the COVID-19 virus.
Studies conducted in the United Kingdom on this new variant of the virus suggest that it increases the rate at which the virus spread. This is estimated as increasing as much as up to 70%.
The United Kingdom has noted increased levels of transmission and spread in the areas where the variant SARS-CoV-2 strain has been found. However, there is no evidence at this point of more severe cases associated with the new variant or it reducing the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The European Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the following:
- There are no reports of worse clinical outcomes
- The level of mortality remains the same
- The effect on the population groups affected remains the same
On Monday, December 21, 2020, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) hosted an emergency meeting with PAHO/WHO, OECS and the Chief Medical Officers of the region to discuss the new risk by this new variant. It was further confirmed that the COVID-19 PCR testing being done in countries remains the gold standard to ensure accurate diagnosis even with the mutations and the vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains as relevant.
The recommendations made are in relation to the strict adherence to the current regional and national guidelines on COVID-19 prevention and control. These include the limitations on social gatherings, maintenance of physical distancing measures, hand hygiene and infection prevention and control measures, mandatory use of face masks in public and strict adherence to protocols within the tourism sector and quarantine for all returning nationals.
CARPHA has also requested that positive cases with high viral loads be sent to their laboratories for gene sequencing for surveillance of this new strain of the virus in our region. Saint Lucia has complied with these recommendations.
CARPHA is the regional reference lab with the capacity to perform gene sequencing for the region. It has allowed countries to send an allocation of ten samples per week which meet the requirements for gene sequencing.
This new situation further emphasizes the need for strict adherence to all protocols recommended thus far and to ensure increased vigilance at all levels where risk has been identified.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue monitoring the situation and recommendations will be made as needed guided by the science to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our population.
We continue to monitor both the global and regional situation as we assess our risks and make recommendations. We also continue to monitor closely and use best practices implemented as we strengthen the existing national protocols.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue providing updates as new information becomes available.
For more information, please contact the Office of the Chief Medical Officer or the
Epidemiology Unit, at 468-5309/468-5317 respectively.
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