BRAZILIAN MYSTERY – Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers

WHERE is it coming from?

The Ministry of Health has reported five additional local cases of the P1 Covid-19 variant (Brazilian variant) virus, bringing the total in Trinidad and Tobago to nine people to have tested positive for the “variant of concern”.

In a release yesterday, the ministry advised the public that “the P1 Covid-19 variant (Brazilian Variant) has been detected in five (5) additional Covid-19 positive samples in Trinidad and Tobago”.

“The Variants of Concern were detected in cases from St George Central (3) and St George West (2). All five cases are nationals,” the ministry said.

It later noted this had brought the total local number of confirmed Covid-19 positive samples of the P1 variant to nine. Head epidemiologist at the ministry, Dr Avery Hinds, however said at yesterday’s news conference that contact tracing among the cases has not yet shown any connections and the ministry would update the population when that information becomes available.

The variant was first identified in a non-national out of the Nariva/Mayaro region but Hinds noted that the cases represent a mix of nationals and non-nationals.

The ministry stated in its release that “all contact tracing and isolation procedures are in progress and are being managed by the relevant County Medical Officer of Health with the aim of reducing the spread of this Variant of Concern”.

As had been stated by Hinds, the ministry also said:

“It is important to note that the cases have no epidemiological link to each other and were identified in varying geographical locations in Trinidad and Tobago.”

The ministry included a reminder of the public health guidelines, warning the public that adherence was “critical” and to stay vigilant against the virus and its variant and stated:

“The Covid-19 vaccine is just one part of the overall tool kit that should be used to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus, in general, and the Variants of Concern. All of the personal protective measures such as mask wearing must also be followed, even by persons who have already received the Covid-19 vaccine.”

Can’t test all

Limited capacity at The University of the West Indies (UWI) means not all positive Covid-19 cases can be tested for the P1 variant, Hinds said.

But the epidemiologist said testing to that extent is not necessary and random sampling can give an accurate representation of the presence of the variant in the population.

The emergence of the Brazilian variant has caused national concern, with questions being asked as to how the strain has managed to appear in different geographic locations, seemingly among individuals who are not connected.

Hinds noted that the genetic sequencing of the virus since it appeared in T&T — and now the Brazilian strain — was being done under the auspices of the The UWI, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

Discussions are taking place in the “background” to increase capacity, possibly through collaboration with Public Health England, and if this happens then testing for the variant would be “ramped up”.

For now, random samples representing a small proportion of positive tests are sent for sequencing and this should give an accurate view of the presence of the variant, as well as whether any other variants of concern are in circulation, he said.

Contact tracing of the first four cases have shown no connections, Hinds said.

The authorities could not say at this time if the variant was also in community spread stage but epidemiological trends would show that once introduced into the population, P1 Covid-19 would continue to establish itself as one of the strains present in the country.

Hinds said continued testing and contact tracing will “shed some light, in addition to random sequencing” but the capacity to test all positive cases “still remains to be developed”.

“It isn’t absolutely essential that every positive be tested to get an idea of how established the variant may be,” Hinds said.

High density

Geographic Information Systems Manager at the Epidemiology Division of the Ministry of Health, Roshan Seeramsingh, had earlier stated that in recent weeks, areas ranging from Diego Marin to Arima on the East-West Corridor have recorded the highest density of Covid-19 cases in the country.

Authorities on this side of the world have been placing their populations on high-alert against the new strain, which scientists are concerned may be more infectious and while vaccination is still heavily recommended, P1 Covid-19 may be showing some immunity against vaccines currently in use.

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