The Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment has received confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) of two variant strains of the SARS CoV-2 in Antigua and Barbuda.
The alpha variant of concern, first identified in the United Kingdom, was found in thirteen positive samples taken in Antigua and Barbuda between February 14 and May 6 2021. The beta variant of concern, first identified in South Africa, was found in two samples taken in Antigua and Barbuda between April 20 and 24 2021.
Both the alpha and beta variants are estimated to be more transmissible and possibly increase the death rate for COVID-19. The alpha variant also needs a smaller viral load to cause infection. The timing of these samples coincides with the increased number of COVID-19 cases seen in Antigua and Barbuda earlier this year.
The World Health Organization has so far confirmed four variants of concern circulating globally. Antigua and Barbuda has been sending samples to CARPHA for genomic sequencing to detect variants since October 2020 as part of a CARPHA/UWI project. The Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment has also increased its surveillance for SARS CoV-2 variants at the laboratory at the Sir Lester Bird Mount St. John’s Medical Centre which now has the capacity to detect SARS CoV-2 variants.
The public is reminded that although there are no active cases on COVID-19 in the country at this time, the detection of SARS CoV-2 variants reinforces that we must continue to adhere to the public health measure to prevent and control the disease. These include physical and social distancing, using face masks and practicing hand hygiene and cough etiquette. The public is further reminded that vaccination is one of the most effective measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Persons are therefore urged to get fully vaccinated utilizing the safe vaccines readily available at our vaccination centers.