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Saint Lucia’s approach to the new variant of COVID-19

The Ministry of Health and Wellness continues to monitor both the global and regional situation as we assess our risks and make recommendations. Most countries are presently experiencing their second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Saint Lucia, we continue to monitor closely and use best practices implemented as we strengthen the existing national protocols. On December 14, 2020 the United Kingdom Public Health Agency reported a variant of SARS-CoV through viral genomic sequencing.

The identified strain has been in circulation from September 20, 2020 in the United Kingdom. The virus has been detected in Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and Australia but the risk of importation into the Caribbean and rest of the world is high due to incoming travel from the United Kingdom and Europe. The Public Health team at the Ministry of Health and

Wellness is reviewing all information in relation to this new threat, in consultation with international and regional public health agencies, to guide the way forward in reducing the possible impact on our country.

It is known and expected that all viruses constantly change in time and hundreds of variations of this virus have been identified with time. The preliminary analysis in the UK suggests that the mutation has affected the rate of transmission of the virus, the estimated increased transmissibility to be up to 70%. The UK government has noted intense transmission and spread in the areas where the variant SARS-CoV-2 strain has been found.

There is no indication at this point of increased infection severity or virulence associated with the new variant or changes with the vaccine efficacy. Preliminary guidance has been received from PAHO/WHO and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The European Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the following:

– There are no reports of worse clinical outcomes

– The level of mortality is the same

– The effect on the population group affected is the same

On Monday December 21, 2020 the Caribbean Public Health Agency hosted an emergency meeting with PAHO/WHO, OECS and the Chief Medical Officers of the region to discuss the new risk by this new variant. It was further clarified that the PCR testing being done in countries remains the gold standard to ensure accurate diagnosis even with the mutations and the vaccine approved by the FDA remains as relevant.

The recommendations made are in relation to the strict adherence to the current regional and national guidelines on COVID-19 prevention and control. These include the limitations on social gatherings, maintenance of physical distancing measures, hand hygiene and infection prevention and control measures, mandatory use of face masks in public and strict adherence to protocols in relation to the Tourism sector and quarantine for returning nationals. CARPHA has also requested that positive cases with high viral loads be sent to their laboratories for gene sequencing for surveillance in our region of this new strain of the virus.

Saint Lucia intends to comply with these recommendations. Based on the scientific information received thus far in relation to the new strain and the current level of outbreak in most countries in the region, travel restrictions are not recommended at this point for the majority of countries.

This new situation further emphasizes the need for strict adherence to all protocols recommended thus far and ensures increased vigilance at all levels where risk has been identified.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, let us all remain on alert and continue to play our part to protect the health and safety of our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. We ask all to minimize their movements, avoid social gatherings and other activities which will bring about greater exposure to the virus.

Notwithstanding, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue monitoring the situation and recommendations will be made as needed, guided by the science, to reduce impact of COVID-19 on our population.

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