Guyana concerned about new COVID-19 variant in Brazil; Takatu Crossing to remain closed

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The government and health officials in Guyana on Friday said the Takutu River Bridge, which links Guyana’s Lethem to Bonfim in Brazil, will remain closed as part of precautions to guard against the spread of the new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant which was detected in Brazil earlier this week.

With the United Kingdom already banning flights from several South American countries, including Guyana over the developments in Brazil, Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony has said that Guyana will put its own protective measures in place.

During his daily COVID-19 update on Friday, the Health Minister said Guyana, like other countries, were particularly concerned that the virus was being regarded as more transmissible.

He fears that if the strain makes its way into Guyana, which shares a large part of its unregulated border with Brazil, it could lead to a spike in domestic cases and crowding of hospitals across the country.

“We are very concerned with this new variant in Brazil because of our proximity to that country and we must pay attention,” the Health Minister said.

Viruses naturally mutate and there is no evidence that the newly-discovered strains have more severe disease outcomes, but Dr Anthony fears the challenges Guyana can face in its health care system because of its transmissible nature.

Minister of Health Dr Frank Anthony

He said with Guyana’s land border closed for several months now, heightened joint service patrols will continue along the margins of the two countries to guard against unregulated crossing.

Guyana and Brazil allow for a once-weekly passing of goods between the two countries – an exercise that Dr Anthony said is properly supervised by the health authorities on both sides.

“We don’t want our cases to spike,” he said. Guyana has no capacity to test for the new strain for the virus although it can send samples abroad for genetic sequencing.

New variants of COVID-19 have previously been identified in the UK and South Africa, with many countries imposing restrictions on arrivals from both nations. Dr Anthony said the World Health Organization (WHO) also suspects that the new variant identified in Brazil a few days ago may already be in other South American Countries.

Felipe Naveca, Deputy Director of research at the Brazilian state-run Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, said the new variant was “of concern” and its origin was “undoubtedly” from the Amazon region.

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