Minister of Health, Sir Molwyn Joseph is appealing to healthcare workers not to become despondent in the face of yet another mutation of the Covid-19 virus.
The Omicron (B.1.1.529) coronavirus variant originated from South Africa and has so far been detected in parts of Europe and North America since it was discovered last week.
“This is Covid-19 for us; we are in a war and we continue to be challenged and I am confident that we have the resources; we have the talents with us and certainly our commitment to protect Antigua and Barbuda,” the health minister assured.
Last Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the strain as being “of concern”; however Omicron has not yet been linked to any deaths. The symptoms of Omicron are said to be mild but still, the variant poses what the WHO defines as a “very high” risk because of how quickly the infection could spread internationally.
“We do not yet know if Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections or more risk of evading vaccines,” Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a Special Session of the World Health Assembly.
Scientists, according to international media, say the variant has a very unusual group of mutations, which are worrying because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
Already, the variant has been identified in Britain and Canada – two of Antigua and Barbuda’s three major tourism markets.
Almost immediately after hearing this news, Antigua and Barbuda closed its borders to southern African states.
Sir Molwyn told Observer that “we evaluated the situation and thought it was prudent to issue bans on certain countries which we did within 24 hours of hearing of this virus”.
More travel restrictions are likely to be announced as the variant spreads, edging closer to the Caribbean.
He said it would not be long before the variant is detected in the United States – the island’s main market for tourism.
It was just this month that flights to Canada resumed, while the government was looking towards the Winter season to increase well-needed revenue in the twin-island state.
News of this mutated virus is also likely to force the government to review plans to end a 20-month-long State of Emergency on December 23, 2021.
Government authorities in South Africa have blasted countries that have placed travel bans on its country and maintain that these bands are scientifically unjustified.
According to Yahoo News, “The United States has banned travel from eight African countries — and Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka have also banned travel from South Africa and its neighboring nations due to the Omicron variant. Britain, Canada and the European Union have also instituted travel bans on Southern Africa. However, while the variant has also been detected in Australia, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands, no travel bans have been enacted for those countries.”
During his speech, Ghebreyesus said Omicron demonstrates why the world needs a new accord on pandemics since the current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.
“We shouldn’t need another wake up call. We should all be wide awake to the threat of this virus but Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think that we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us,” he said.
Ghebreyesus stressed that the world cannot end this pandemic until the vaccine crisis is solved.