Health Minister sounds warning for elderly, sick as COVID cases spiking globally

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COVID-19 infections are surging in some countries due to the spread of the Omicron BA.2 and as Guyana prepares for the imminent arrival of this variant, Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony has warned that older folks and people with underlying illnesses will be most affected.

The Omicron BA.2 is a form of the infectious Omicron variant; this variant contributed to significant surges in new infections in Guyana and around the globe earlier this year.

Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr. Carissa F. Etienne on Wednesday urged countries to remain vigilant with this BA.2 variant spreading across Europe and Asia.

Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony.

It was also noted that in parts of North America and the Caribbean, where Omicron is becoming the predominant variant, new infections are beginning to rise.

Dr. Anthony, during his daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, explained that the emergence of new variants elsewhere in the world does not preclude Guyana or other countries in the region from contracting the newer coronavirus forms.

“I think eventually we are going to see BA.2 coming to Guyana because we are so interconnected. We have to look out for that,” the Health Minister stated.

He, however, noted that like the original Omicron variant, this form of the virus has not necessarily resulted in increased deaths. And so, he said fully vaccinated people and those who have also received their booster doses should be protected against experiencing the more severe and life-threatening symptoms of the disease.

But the challenge, he said, is the low levels of full vaccination and booster dose uptake in Guyana.

While 438,714 adults (or 85.5 per cent of the targeted population) took their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, only about 337,660 people (or 65.8 per cent) took their second dose. This means that 144,054 are eligible for their second dose, but have not yet taken it.

Meanwhile, only 59,585 adults have taken their booster dose – which is administered as a third dose after an individual is fully vaccinated.

“We have seen… that our numbers are pretty low with booster doses and therefore, if those number remain as low as it is and you have a BA.2 wave, I think a lot of older people and people with comorbidities would actually get sick,” the Health Minister lamented.

With a new aim to get second dose uptake to about 70 per cent by the end of April, Dr. Anthony expressed hope that many more people would get the much-needed protection against the looming Omicron BA.2 threat.

Meanwhile, the PAHO Director also emphasised that countries should continue testing for COVID-19, particularly to detect the prevalence of the Omicron BA.2 in the region and subsequently, tailor mitigation strategies.

“This means making tests easily accessible for everyone everywhere, to prevent new outbreaks and to prepare our health systems if cases surge,” she said.

Guyana has significantly reduced the number of COVID-19 tests administered daily. In January, amid rampant COVID-19 infections, Dr. Anthony announced that the Health Ministry will only provide PCR COVID-19 tests to specific categories of people– that is, hospitalised and high-risk individuals.

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