#TurksandCaicos – Press Release issued March 1, 2021 by TCI Ministry of Health: “Today, 27th February 2021, the Ministry of Health received the results of genomic sequencing which was conducted at the Caribbean Public Health Agency on samples from the TCI.
Samples were sent by the National Public Health Laboratory in the TCI, from a selection of positive samples identified through PCR testing. Genomic analysis/sequencing was undertaken in order to identify whether any of the variants reported overseas, were in circulation in the TCI.
Four samples were sent for analysis, one of which has been confirmed as the UK variant or B.1.1.7. This individual has completed quarantine and recovered.
Today’s results were not unexpected due to the TCIs borders being open to international and regional travel as well as the recent increase and spike in the number of new cases reported locally, however, it does highlight the need for all TCI residents to remain vigilant in protecting themselves and one another through the use of face coverings, frequent hand hygiene, physical distancing and getting vaccinated.
The COVID-19 virus like any other virus, can undergo mutations. This is well documented in viruses such as seasonal influenza (flu). The B.1.1.7. variant was first detected in the UK and was first sequenced in the UK in September 2020. A number of variants have been identified globally and there is concern that variants could cause additional challenges with controlling the pandemic. COVID-19 variants have been shown to spread more easily (more infectious), have a higher mortality rate and possibly may not be as responsive to the different vaccines being rolled out. This particular variant includes a mutation in the ‘spike’protein which is responsible for the more infectious characteristic described.
Approximately 91,626 cases of the UK variant have been detected in England and Wales and it is responsible for the surge in cases seen in the UK since the end of 2020. It was first identified in South East England and since its identification, became the predominant strain in the UK with a preponderance to spread more rapidly between persons resulting in high case counts as well as having a higher rate of mortality. The UK variant or B.1.1.7. has been identified in a number of other countries including the US with cases being found in Florida which the TCI has close travel links, where it is becoming more and more prevalent.
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which is being rolled out in the TCI to residents, has been shown to be effective against this variant, however the general public is reminded to be vigilant in adhering to all public health protocols to prevent the spread of the virus throughout the community.