Dr. Anthony assumes all COVID variants here; urges citizens to get ‘vaxed’

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By Vishani Ragobeer

Variants of the coronavirus have been devastating countries aboard, threatening an extension of lockdown measures and though Guyana has not been able to identify the presence of these variants, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said that the local health authorities are assuming that the variants are here.

The Health Minister said this on Friday while answering questions from the News Room during his daily COVID-19 update.

The variants of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the disease COVID-19, emerge due to continued spread from person to person. And, Minister Anthony explained that when variants emerge and become variants of concern, it is because they have become more transmissible (or, more easily spread) and in some cases, because they may evade the body’s immune response to fight off infection.

There are several variants of concern that have emerged thus far. The original variant was the Alpha variant that originated in the United Kingdom last year and the more dominant variant right now is the Delta variant that emerged in India, earlier this year.

This Delta variant is highly transmissible and has resulted in surges of infections in the United States over the past few weeks.

Cognisant of this, the Health Minister said, “… we have travel back and forth from the US on a daily basis so one can assume that we have different types of variants that are circulating in Guyana and would have contributed to the clinical picture that we see.”

On Wednesday, Guyana surpassed 500 COVID-19 deaths and thus, recorded 300 deaths between March to July. Addressing this, Dr. Anthony said that he could not definitively say whether the emergence of the variants contributed to this.

He, however, said, “From a clinical perspective, we suspect this is what is happening.”

The only way to definitively make the correlation between the emergence of the variants and the surge in deaths, the Health Minister explained, would be to engage in genomic sequencing, a type of scientific analysis of the COVID-19 samples. This sequencing would allow the local health authorities to understand if the COVID-19 infections locally are the ‘normal’ coronavirus or a ‘variant’.

But, the Health Minister said that identifying whether variants are in the country “doesn’t make much difference” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and treat infected patients.

In fact, he stated, “We would try to do that (genomic sequencing) but again, it is not a priority because, as I said, we are assuming that all of the different strains are here.”

Previously, he opined that it is possible that the Gamma variant (also known as the P.1 variant) that emerged in Brazil, could be in Guyana.

Since the authorities are assuming that variants are in Guyana, the minister emphasised that the task is, therefore, for people to adhere to preventative measures such as wearing masks, sanitising, and social distancing.

He also said that vaccination is important since this would prevent people from becoming affected by the more serious and life-threatening forms of the disease.

Adhering to these measures and getting vaccinated, he said, is particularly crucial for those people who have comorbidities- which are other underlying diseases such as diabetes and hypertension- since these people are more vulnerable to the worse symptoms of COVID-19.

At the end of Thursday, 241,680 people, or 49.6 per cent of the targeted adult population, have received their first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines used locally while another 126,620 people, or 26 per cent, received both doses.

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