Two more coronavirus samples being tested

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3D illustration of Coronavirus, virus which causes SARS and MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome
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By Gemma Handy

Results of the country’s latest coronavirus samples under investigation are expected to be made public within a day or two.

Health officials revealed two more samples were being sent to Trinidad for testing and that they anticipated a prompt response from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) tasked with scrutinising them.

It is unclear whether the swabs were taken from tourists or residents or where exactly the people in question are currently being isolated, although one of them is said to be at home. Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas told a press conference yesterday that she did not have the details to hand.

However, four samples taken from people on March 17 have all proved to be negative, she confirmed. Those related to people aged between 20 and 60-plus, some of whom had been in close contact with the nation’s sole confirmed case, a 21-year-old woman who arrived into Antigua aboard a British Airways flight on March 10.

Dr Sealey-Thomas said she was “very pleased” with the negative results and that the four people had since been able to leave quarantine and isolation facilities.

Meanwhile, work progresses on repurposing the Margetson Ward at the former Holberton Hospital. Health Minister Molwyn Joseph said the facility, which has five isolation units, remained on track to open at the weekend.

“Things are moving quite well and the beds are in,” he said. Nurses with direct responsibility for the ward are due to visit it today. 

The Minister said he hoped the country would be capable of testing its own virus samples soon.

“My optimism seemed to exceed the reality,” he admitted. While testing kits are due to arrive on island today or tomorrow, the delay is due to getting a piece of equipment officially certified, he said.

“I checked today to see how quickly we could get a technician to come to Antigua and was told they may not get here in under a week. We are trying to get someone here within a few days,” he explained.

And as the virus tightens its grip on the globe, Minister Joseph urged the public to avoid congregating in large numbers, both in public places and at home.

“I encourage you to read a book, watch television and enjoy the solitude of life,” he said. “If everyone does that for the next 14 days, it will go a long way in ensuring anyone with the infection does not spread it.”

He said he was pleased with the public’s cooperation to date.

“It’s evident people are taking the message seriously,” the Health Minister added.

The CMO warned “a lot more work” lies ahead as authorities continue to fight the spread of the virus which has now infected over 200,000 people worldwide. More than 10,000 have died while almost 90,000 have recovered.

Dr Sealey-Thomas added, “Social distancing is encouraged, and hand washing for at least 20 seconds, along with an alcohol-based rub if available.”

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