ST GEORGE’S – Grenada on Friday become the first Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country to announce that it would not allow people from several African countries into the island as a result of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant.
“Persons with a travel history in the last 14 days to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini will not be allowed into Grenada. It comes in the wake of reports of a new strain of COVID-19, called Omicron, which has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a variant of concern,” according to an official government statement.
The brief advisory said that the measure went into effect immediately and came soon after the WHO asked countries to, among other things, enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand the new circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
The WHO statement noted that the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) was an independent group of experts that periodically monitored and evaluated the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assessed if specific mutations and combinations of mutations altered the behaviour of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.
“The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021,” said the statement which explained that this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.
The preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.
Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation.
“Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage,” the WHO said, adding that there are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant.
But the statement assured that the WHO will communicate new findings with member states and to the public as needed. (CMC)