By Elesha George
Antigua and Barbuda has witnessed hundreds of successful Covid recoveries even with an increase in cases, but more strains of the virus continue to develop around us and could further affect the tourism sector.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was monitoring four mutations of the Omicron variant, one of which has been identified in 40 counties in the United States.
“This virus is dangerous and it continues to evolve before our very eyes. WHO is currently tracking four sub-lineages of the Omicron variant of concern, including BA.2,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO.
BA.2 was first identified in late December 2021 and is considered to be stealthier than the original version of Omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat less visible using PCR testing.
According to News Medical, “Some scientists worry it could also be more contagious.”
The WHO said almost 90 million cases of Omicron have been detected since the variant was identified 10 weeks ago – an underestimation of the numbers, Ghebreyesus noted.
He said the figure is greater than the cases that were reported in the fall of 2020.
“We are now starting to see a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world. We are concerned that the narrative has taken hold in some countries that, because of vaccines and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity, preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” he explained.
Ghebreyesus noted that more transmission means more deaths, and that preparing now will reduce the time for large scale vaccine manufacturing, which will ultimately save lives.
“Variants of SARS CoV2 may continue to escape these arising antibodies induced by vaccines against prior variants. In addition, the reservoir of better coronavirus is large, and new cross-overs to humans is likely,” he said.
“It is also clear that as this virus evolves, so vaccines may need to evolve.”
Closer to home, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rhonda Sealey-Thomas informed Observer that the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) tests for sub-lineages, and has been testing for the sub-lineage of Omicron as the coronavirus mutates.
Observer has not yet been able to confirm whether the BA.2 lineage has been detected in the twin islands, but the country’s two largest tourism source markets – the United Kingdom and the United States – reported the highest number of Omicron cases in January.
According to statista.com – a leading provider of market and consumer data – as of January 31, the United Kingdom had reported the highest number of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant cases, with over 316,000 cases.
The Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) has continually monitored the developments with the coronavirus and reported on Monday that interest in the destination is high, but said they have faced cancellations or re-booking of travel which has stymied the sector’s rebound.