‘Travel restrictions from countries with confirmed cases would be less effective,’ says St Lucia’s ministry of health

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Minister for Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs, Moses Jn Baptiste and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Sharon Belmar-George

By Caribbean News Global contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia – The ministry of health, wellness and elderly affairs of Saint Lucia in a press release dated November 29, geared to “alert the public on the new variant of concern Omicron,” advised the public “to continue strengthening their national protocols that are already in place,” further stated that “based on the wide distribution of this new variant at this early stage travel restrictions from countries with confirmed cases would be less effective.”

Related: Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world,” WHO’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said on Sunday, “putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned travel bans enacted against his country, on Sunday said he was “deeply disappointed” called on countries with bans in place to “urgently reverse their decisions … before any further damage is done to our economies”.

The minister of health in St Lucia, noted that: “On November 26, 2021, WHO designated B.1.1.529 a variant of concern named Omicron based on the mutations that may impact its behavior. This variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24, 2021, and to date has been confirmed in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Netherlands. Based on the wide distribution of this new variant at this early stage travel restrictions from countries with confirmed cases would be less effective.”

The statement continued: “ To date, there is still limited information on Omicron, it is not clear whether it is more transmissible as compared to other variants. The severity of disease has not been confirmed compared to infections from other variants. There is no information to suggest that the symptoms are different or more severe. Preliminary evidence suggests there may be increased re-infection risk with Omicron,” added, “based on the information on variants, we know that they can cause severe disease or, in particular to the most vulnerable.

“Our first line of defense must be prevention followed by control and reduced transmission measures. The effectiveness of the available vaccines is being reviewed but it is noted that the current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death. Omicron is accurately detected using PCR method but it is not known whether it is detected by rapid Antigen tests. The effectiveness of the current treatment regimens is also still being assessed.”

St Lucia not keeping pace with vaccines rollout and the science

Related: Enhancing readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical brief and priority actions for Member States

Overview

  • On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern (VOC), on the basis of advice from WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution. The variant has been given the name Omicron.
  • Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 in the spike, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility. However, there are still considerable uncertainties.
  • The main uncertainties are (1) how transmissible the variant is and whether any increases are  related to immune escape, intrinsic increased transmissibility, or both; (2) how well vaccines protect against infection, transmission, clinical disease of different degrees of severity and death; and (3) does the variant present with a different severity profile. Public health advice is based on current information and will be tailored as more evidence emerges around those key questions.

“On a national level,” said the ministry of health “we have recently managed our fourth wave and we are going into the month of December which is the month of highest risk for transmission of COVID-19 due to increased tourists arrival, returning nationals and increased social activities. Vaccination remains our most important measure at this point in reducing the health implications of this new variant.”

Saint Lucia has diagnosed a total of 12,975 cases in country, with 109 active cases. The daily infection rate for the last 7 days is 5 per 100,00 population per day, with a transmission rate of 0.8. We have noted a total of 280 COVID-19 deaths. We have 20 positive cases admitted at the respiratory hospital, seven severely ill.

Related: Rapid risk assessment of acute public health events

This manual has been developed to guide rapid risk assessment of acute public health risks from any type of hazard in response to requests from Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO). The manual is aimed primarily at national departments with health-protection responsibilities, National Focal Points (NFPs) for the International Heath Regulations (IHR) and WHO staff. It should also be useful to others who join multidisciplinary risk assessment teams, such as clinicians, field epidemiologists, veterinarians, chemists, food-safety specialists.

The ministry of health said: “In an effort to reduce the impact of this new variant and COVID-19 in general we must take urgent actions. These include increased surveillance for early detection, ensuring optimum testing capacity and the strengthening of public health measures:

  • Ensure the protocols are maintained at workplaces, on minibuses and commercial and tourism sector
  • Proper use of face mask when in public places
  • Ensure you remain in quarantine or isolation if you were a direct contact of a case
  • If you develop respiratory symptoms, seek medical care and avoid contact with others.”

Addressing a special World Health Assembly session that runs until Wednesday World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, argued that greater international cooperation is essential to preserve “hard-won gains” against the virus.

“Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores”, WHO director-general, highlighted. “Omicron’s very emergence is another reminder that although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us. We are living through a cycle of panic and neglect. Hard-won gains could vanish in an instant” he added: “Our most immediate task, therefore, is to end this pandemic. No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic alone.  The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity this virus has to spread and evolve in ways we cannot predict nor prevent. We are all in this together”.

Advocating for a new common and binding global approach to pandemics, WHO director-general proffered. “Courageous and compassionate leadership; fidelity to science; generosity in sharing the fruits of research; and an unshakeable commitment to equity and solidarity. If we cannot apply those principles now to tame COVID-19, how can we hope to prevent history repeating?”

More than 80 percent of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries while low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6 percent of all vaccines, Dr Tedros emphasised.

Only 1 in 4 African health workers fully vaccinated against COVID-19

 

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