PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) says it is crucial to properly and consistently employ and increase the public’s adherence to COVID-19 control measures with the discovery and proliferation of multiple COVID-19 variants.
The agency noted that since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, at least six variants have emerged. It noted in particular that three new variants of concern are spreading rapidly; the UK variant; a variant that emerged in South Africa; and the variants that surfaced in Brazil.
The UK variant, which emerged in September 2020, has been identified in 60 countries globally and recently, in some Caribbean countries. Initial data suggest that the UK variant is more transmissible, and studies and analysis of the transmission and severity of the variant are underway.
“This increased ease of transmission of the UK variant is of grave concern for its impact on public health, and the fight to contain and end the COVID-19 pandemic. This is further heightened by the fact that, at present, the vaccines developed have not yet been proven to stop disease transmission but rather to lessen the severity of infection. There is no reported evidence of a reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines approved for the COVID-19 virus in providing protection from any variants. However, it is important to note that vaccinated persons may still spread COVID-19,” said Dr Joy St John, executive director of the CARPHA.
He further stated: “CARPHA is committed to supporting its member states to stopping the spread of the virus. We urge member states to enhance surveillance in residential institutions and face to face educational settings. There must also be strict adherence to the requirements of negative COVID-19 results for entry to the ports in the member states, to effectively continue combating COVID-19 spread in the Caribbean. Mandatory quarantine has become even more important to curb the spread of the virus.”
The agency said community surveillance should also be enhanced thereby strengthening public health control measures. It added that individuals must continue practicing the measures of wearing face masks and covering, physical distancing, and hand sanitation in all face-to-face settings.
“It is critical to remember that as most cases will have no or mild symptoms, COVID-19 cases may quietly increase in the community and result in sudden increases in hospitalisations and deaths. The first line of defence continues to be isolation of infected persons and quarantine of travellers and any person with known or possible exposure to infected persons,” the agency explained.
It said all individuals must practice these measures, as asymptomatic people are known to be able to spread the virus.
In addition, the CRAPHA said adequate testing is critical to surveillance measures for residential institutions, face-to-face schooling, celebratory and religious gatherings, and other potential spreader and super-spreader events and activities.