With new COVID threat, Health Ministry may now test for variants

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With the renewed threat of increased COVID-19 deaths and infections due to the new Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony says that the local authorities are once again exploring the need for specialised testing to identify the presence of the variant.

During his daily COVID-19 update on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony explained that the only way to determine the presence of variants would be to engage in a specialised form of genetic testing; this is known as genomic sequencing.

And Dr. Anthony said that the local health authorities have developed a relationship with the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) and the Pan- American Health Organization (PAHO) to test for variants.

“These are arrangements that we will be looking into to see whether or not we need to send these samples there,” the Health Minister said.

Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony

Without genomic sequencing, health authorities would be able to identify that someone has been infected with the novel coronavirus but they would not be able to distinguish between the types of coronavirus in circulation. There have been five variants of concern detected so far – the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron.

Guyana has not been able to definitively confirm the presence of variants since the country has not sent more COVID-19 samples to CARPHA for testing.

Based on reports, only 10 samples were ever sent for variant testing; these were sent at the beginning of this year and returned negative. And Dr. Anthony said that the local authorities were assuming that the variants, including the deadly Delta variant, were circulating in Guyana.

Under that assumption, he did not see the immediate need for genomic sequencing to definitively confirm the presence of the variants.

Previously, the Health Minister also stated that Guyana was exploring the possibility of testing COVID-19 samples for variants with the Icahn School of Medicine in New York. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony said that a relationship with this institution has been “worked out” but for several reasons, the local authorities decided not to proceed with the partnership.

He did not list those reasons but said that in light of the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Health Ministry may have to evaluate how it can get more samples tested.

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