The ability to test for Covid variants in Antigua and Barbuda – rather than send samples to Trinidad for analysis – is set to become a reality within days.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas says work is underway to increase the capabilities of the laboratory at the Sir Lester Bird Mount St John’s Medical Centre to handle the tests.
“By the end of [this] week – certainly by the following Monday – we should be able to test for variants right here,” she told state media over the weekend.
Up to now, the country has been relying on expertise from the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Port of Spain, and the University of the West Indies to identify mutations of the virus.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, four variants of concern have emerged. These are often more transmissible than the form of the virus that was first discovered in 2019.
Earlier this month, Barbados’ national public health laboratory gained the resources to detect coronavirus variants. Health officials there described the move as “exciting” news as the government looks to expand the lab’s research role.
Meanwhile, Dr Sealey-Thomas is encouraging Antigua and Barbuda residents to continue to adhere to Covid guidelines.
“The message to the nation is not to become complacent, to be vigilant, to continue to practice the public health measures instituted – wearing your face mask, physically distancing from persons; that is staying at least six feet away from another person unless you’re from the same household.
“Also, not going to places where there will be a lot of persons – bars, restaurants, funerals, church services. Watch the numbers when you go to those places and of course – a very important public health measure – get vaccinated,” the CMO said.
Dr Sealey-Thomas added that getting the bulk of the population inoculated remains the best way to return the country to a semblance of normalcy.