St Vincent Preparing for Community Spread through Delta Variant

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FILE - In this Wednesday, March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

St Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded three cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as health authorities say they are preparing for community spread of the strain, which is more transmissible.

Official figures released show that as of Tuesday, the island had recorded 2,348 cases of COVID-19 since March 2020 with 2,301 having recovered, 35 cases active, and 12 people succumbing to the virus.

In addition, the authorities confirmed three cases of the Delta variant, all of them among vaccinated travellers to the country.

Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Roger Duncan told a news conference that since the Delta variant is more transmissible, “we know that more likely it would infect more people.

“More people infected, the more people likely to get sick, the more people like to get severely sick. And deaths could go up. I mean, the evidence is before us; it’s clear, unambiguous and overwhelming,” Dr. Duncan said.

He said that as part of its plan for containing the Delta variant, the Ministry of Health is actively looking for variants.

“You would notice while we do releases regarding Delta cases, you would find that with those releases, we would indicate that these travellers would have entered the country some weeks prior.

“There’s a simple explanation for that, because it takes time to do the typing. We don’t do genetic typing in St. Vincent, so they go off to CARPHA (The Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency), and they also go off to other public health labs for confirmation.

“So we’re actively looking. So there are several things that we need to do and we’ve been doing,” he said, adding that people were now getting their PCR test results in 24 hours.

“So we’ve been building our capacity to test an increase in the turnaround time. Our contact tracing, surveillance, has been improved. And that’s why we’ve been detecting these cases, these imported cases of Delta.

“Also, we have a contingency plan for emergency care, both at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital and at community and rural hospitals, which would see some deviation from normal daily routine as we switch to a different mode, depending on what the caseloads are, whenever we encounter a rapid community spread… of the Delta variant,” Dr. Duncan said.

He told reporters that the island has been able to keep its COVID-19 numbers “in a modest way” without curfews and other lockdown measures and that the “positivity rate is trending upwards”, citing the latest data from the ministry.

“Now, I won’t want us to be too secure or too overconfident in the numbers that we’re seeing in terms of the amount of COVID we have among us. We have to be very, very, very wary of what is happening. We don’t have to look very far. There’s Barbados right next door; up north, there is Jamaica; south of us is Grenada and we could see what is happening there,” Dr. Duncan said.

He said that what is happening in those countries could take place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and “all the work that we’ve been doing so far is sort of trying to level or flatten this curve.

“So if we have small numbers, sporadic cases that will keep occurring, then we are going to be able to reduce hospitalization, severe illness and, hopefully, death.

“But we see what’s happening and … I’m really convinced it’s a matter of time before we encounter possible community spread of the Delta variant and we know it’s much more transmissible than the other variants we’ve encountered.”

He said health officials expect the public to continue to follow the COVID-19 protocols, noting “I know quite often people say, ‘Well, look, you know anything happens. People don’t follow the rules. Nothing happens. There’s no enforcement.’

“But even before we get there, we really want people to talk about individual responsibilities, the responsibility that you have for yourself, the responsibility you have for your family, your friends, and your community at large.

“The message remains the same; simple message, we kept talking about this, it’s heading into two years now: First of all, you need to keep your hands clean, wash your hands with soap and running water as often as possible. If these are not available, you have the option of sanitisers.

“So keep your hands clean, please keep your distance. Six feet is safest. If you can’t manage six feet in some conditions, at least do not go below three feet. So you need to keep the distance itself,” Dr. Duncan added.

CMC

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