BOOST FOR VIRUS FIGHT

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Local testing could be available within days

By Gemma Handy

Nine more samples taken from people suspected of having the coronavirus in Antigua and Barbuda are being sent to Trinidad for testing.

Results are expected within a day or two.

Health Minister Molwyn Joseph told Observer radio yesterday that the country should be able to test samples on home turf within a week.

That will reduce the turnaround time to a few hours, Joseph said.

As the world continues to grapple with the devastating pandemic, putting strain on crucial resources, the twin island country has struggled to access key expertise.

The unavailability of a technician to validate testing equipment caused delays, Joseph said. The technician has now arrived in Antigua and is already at work on a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine which searches for the presence of Covid-19 in swabs taken from patients.

The next stage will be for experts from regional public health body PAHO to train local lab technicians. They are due to arrive in Antigua on Friday.

“We could very well be testing locally early next week, or mid next week, if we can get all the agents here,” Joseph continued.

Currently, it takes up to 48 hours to get results from tests flown overseas.

An extra 35 ventilators are also expected to arrive by next week, the minister said.

But government chiefs have already warned there will not be enough to cope with a deluge of critically ill patients.

With the number of Covid-19 infections surging globally, leaving countries scrambling for access to life-saving resources, acquiring more ventilators from the US “is a joke”, Joseph said.

“We are in a very difficult situation right now,” he admitted.

Local medical facilities will be able to handle “about 100” hospitalised patients, he said, or a maximum of 150 “using some alternative facilities”.

“We are confident that if there’s a surge in the next week or so, we will be able to handle the cases that come before us,” he said.

Antigua and Barbuda currently has seven confirmed coronavirus cases.

One of them is a local medic who has not been officially named. Contact tracing is underway to deduce if any of his patients were exposed.

“It is reasonable to assume the doctor would have seen patients” prior to his diagnosis, the minister said.

He added, “I can assure you the doctor is recovering well.”

The minister continued that while Mount St John’s Medical Centre was “ready to cope” with the coronavirus outbreak, work was still being completed at the long-awaited Margetson Ward which is being repurposed as a quarantine and isolation facility.

Construction is completed and support systems, such as the provision of oxygen, are now being installed. The ward will be the nation’s first modern infectious disease control centre.

Minister Joseph again pleaded with the public to practice social distancing – which means standing six feet apart – to halt the virus’s spread.

He chided the “400 people” he witnessed jostling for position at the Epicurean supermarket in Friars Hill Road yesterday morning, hours before the 24-hour curfew came into effect. 

“They were descending on that supermarket doing all the things that are wrong, including ignoring the social distancing.

“They are about to create a situation in Antigua and Barbuda that is going to be a disaster,” he warned. “This thing is no longer in the hands of the government; it’s in the hands of citizens and residents of this country who are defying common sense.”

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