Guyana’s last test for COVID-19 variants was in January
- Gov’t still awaits clarity on PAHO’s claim
Amid great uncertainty over whether the Brazilian variant of the COVID-19 virus is in Guyana, the Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, has confirmed that the last time efforts were made to identify the presence of variants was in January 2021 when 10 samples were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for gene sequencing.
The Ministry of Health had submitted 10 random SARS-CoV-2 samples to CARPHA in January for gene sequencing after technicians at a private laboratory in Guyana said they had observed inconsistencies in some samples.
CARPHA returned the results in early February where it was determined that none of the 10 samples were variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
But with Guyana experiencing a new wave of the virus, which has seen an increase in deaths and new cases, there are concerns raised on whether any mutations of the disease are present in Guyana.
Even with the government questioning the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO’s) indication that the P.1 variant, which originated in Brazil, is present in the country, Dr Anthony on Thursday did not say what action the government has independently taken in recent times to make its own determination.
During his COVID-19 update on, Dr. Anthony would only reference the 10 samples sent to CARPHA back in January.
“The only way you can determine the [presence of variants] is to do genetic sequencing. We sent 10 samples earlier in the year… those are the only 10 samples that we are aware of that went to a lab for sequencing,” Dr. Anthony said.
Without providing details, he said the government is “working out” arrangements to have more sequencing done.
“… but again these things take time and we will continue to pursue,” he added.
In March, the Trinidad-based CARPHA had suspended testing for new variants of COVID-19 in the region.
CARPHA, which began conducting genome sequencing for the new variants in December 2020, has not announced a restart of gene sequencing.
Guyana was pursuing other arrangements with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to send more samples for testing of the new variants to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States.
Last week, PAHO’s Advisor on Emerging Viral Diseases, Dr. Jairo Mendez-Rico had said that the Brazil ‘P.1’ variant is here.
During the webinar on SARS-CoV-2 variants organised by PAHO for journalists, Dr. Mendez-Rico stated that 37 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region have confirmed the presence of one or more variants of concern. SARS-CoV-2 is the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
While Dr. Mendez-Rico illustrated the distribution of the variants in countries in the LAC region on a table, it was shown that the P.1 variant, which originated in Brazil, has been confirmed in Guyana.
Days later, Dr. Anthony said PAHO’s local office in Guyana in yet to respond to the government’s query on the claim.
“Where PAHO probably got its information from, I don’t know, and that is what we are seeking to clarify. How they arrived at this conclusion that Guyana has variants?” Dr. Anthony had said.
The variants of concern that have emerged around the world include those that originated in the United Kingdom (B 1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), Brazil (P.1), and India (B.1.617).
The variant that originated in the UK was the first variant of concern discovered; it was discovered at the end of 2020. Contrastingly, the B.1.617 variant that originated in India is the most recently discovered variant.
According to Dr. Mendez-Rico, the B.1.1.7 has been recorded in 34 countries, the B.1.351 in 17 countries, the P.1 variant in 21 countries and the B.1.617 in eight countries.