The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is alerting the public on the new COVID-19 variant of concern known as Omicron.
The public health team says it is working closely with regional public agencies in obtaining updated and timely information to guide on the necessary measures in country.
“At this point countries are advised to continue strengthening their national protocols that are already in place,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George said.
Saint Lucia, she says, 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 100,000 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,” Belmar-George said.
On November 26, 2021 the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated B.1.1.529 a variant of concern (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. 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,” the CMO said.
According to her preliminary evidence suggests there may be increased re-infection risk with Omicron. “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,” she said.
The Chief medical officer stated that the effectiveness of the available vaccines is being reviewed but it has been 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.
“On a national level, 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,” she 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. Vaccination remains our most important measure at this point in reducing the health implications of this new variant,” Belmar-George said.
She calls on Saint Lucians to avoid large crowds and crowded areas, ensure that protocols are maintained at work places, on minibuses and commercial and tourism sector and for them to use face masks properly 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. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are available at the various wellness centers and advertised sites. These vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective in protecting persons from developing COVID- 19, its severe forms, complications, hospitalizations and death. The booster Pfizer vaccine is also available for persons who have had both doses of the AstraZeneca for over 6 months. Everyone who has not been vaccinated is urged to get vaccinated urgently,” the Chief medical Officer said.