Antigua News Room-The country will soon learn whether the variant of the SARS CoV-2 virus that was first discovered in the United Kingdom in September is present in Antigua and Barbuda.
That’s according to Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas, who said that research was being conducted to identify the most common strains of the virus in the Caribbean region.
SARS Cov-2 is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease.
At a press conference held last week Wednesday, Sealey-Thomas said, “So far, there have been hundreds of variations of this virus identified worldwide and PAHO/WHO have been following them closely.”
“The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in association, in collaborating with the University of the West Indies, they will be doing sequences of the SARS CoV-2 virus that would have been circulating in the region including Antigua and Barbuda”, the CMO revealed.
“So, in a few days, we’ll be able to know what variant has been circulating in Antigua and the region and whether or not the variant that they have identified so far has been in Antigua and Barbuda and certainly we’ll be bringing that information to the public”, she added.
Based on how fast the new variant, B.1.1.7 became the dominant strain in Britain, some scientists believe it may be more easily transmitted than previous variants.
However, the CMO said at a meeting with the WHO last Wednesday, “it was emphasized that it has not yet been proven that that is in fact so but because of the nature of COVID-19, they are being very cautious and they are treating the virus, this new variant, as if it is more transmissible.”
Sealey-Thomas noted there were also “no reports of poorer clinical outcomes with the new variant, no higher mortality and what that means is that they have not noticed that persons with this variant are dying more frequently than other persons with COVID-19, and no specific population group would have been affected so it apparently affects all populations equally.”
Nevertheless, the CMO said, “We do receive flights from the United Kingdom so, of course, in the Ministry of Health we are concerned that the possibility exists that this variant can be introduced into Antigua and Barbuda, if not here before.”
However, the concern was not great enough for the country to ban flights from the UK and Minister of Health, Molywn Joseph said he anticipated that trade between Antigua and Barbuda and the UK will continue as normal.
“Any transmission, especially this new variant of the virus SARS CoV-2, in our estimation, will be successfully managed by the Ministry of Health and all the other Ministries involved by applying the same set of protocols and rules governing the ports of entry in Antigua and Barbuda”, the Health Minister said.
“Like most of the things associated with SARS CoV-2, there aren’t too many conclusions about this virus, even now. What we can conclude, having had to manage this over the last 9, 10 months, is that the use of masks is one of the most effective ways of reducing transmission of this virus, whether it is the new variant or what existed before”, Joseph said.
He also emphasized the importance of frequent handwashing and physical and social distancing.