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Opposition Leader has advice for TCIG now that Delta variant landed

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#TurksandCaicos, August 20, 2021

We should Be Concerned about the Delta Variant

After a year and a half, we are still in the pandemic. It is the survival of the fittest between humans and the coronavirus Variants. We are racing to herd immunity, to get more people vaccinated and to get more effective antiviral medications.

We are seeing people dismiss COVID as a just another common cold, and even worse not wearing masks in public places or social distancing. We are also seeing a lack of compliance to the established COVID-19 protocols. We are seeing most safety protocols being abandoned and persons going back to business as usual pre-COVID. We are seeing persons, some who are vaccinated, travelling to cities with high rates of new COVID-19 cases and returning back home to the Turks and Caicos Islands without knowing their COVID status.

With new cases now emerging daily in the TCI the situation could deteriorate very rapidly. We should not allow the flood gates to be wide open. We as a country cannot ease up our efforts at this time, and should not stop fighting until the virus has been defeated. We have to do whatever it takes to battle this unseen enemy.

Therefore, we should be very concerned about the newer, faster transmitting, Delta Variant (B16172). This Variant seems to be the prevalent strain circulating in the TCI at the moment, and has been seen to be two times more infectious than the original G-Variant. Recent reports from the UK indicate that the Delta Variant is infecting younger people more than the original variant, and that the symptoms are different.

With the original variant infected persons would present with symptoms of high fever, muscle pains, cough, severe chest pain etc., but with the Delta Variant, many infected persons are presenting with symptoms of stuffy or running nose, sneezing, sore throat, and mild headaches. Younger people usually show little or no symptoms, and are less likely to get tested, hence not knowing their COVID status and possible spreading the virus more.

Additionally, scientific data sources are now showing that vaccinated persons with a good immune system may also become infected and show little or mild symptoms, and not get tested, and possibly spread the virus to susceptible individuals.

Viruses have one goal, that is to make more copies of themselves (to multiply), and since they can’t do it on their own, they use us (a host). They infect our body cells and use them to make copies of themselves. They replicate themselves many times, making millions of copies of themselves, but eventually it makes a mistake. The mistake is referred to as a mutation, and it changes the instructions for making the virus. That slightly altered virus is a Variant. Mutations in viruses happen all the time, producing new variants. Most of the time these mutations are insignificant or make the virus weaker, and they naturally disappear. But sometimes a series of mutations makes the virus stronger, and gives it an edge over its host. These advantages include giving the viruses the ability to bind to the human cells better, and the ability to enter the cells easier, making the virus more transmissible, allowing it to become the dominant strain in many places around the world.

It is important to remember that mutations are random errors, but the longer a virus is around, and the more people it infects, the more it will change, and the more those changes accumulate, the more chance the virus has to evolve into a more dangerous variant.

The Delta Variant which is the most recent addition to this list of dangerous Variants, is described as a “Double Mutant”, whose mutations seems to make it more transmissible, as it binds to the cell receptors better than other variants, thus blocking those other variants from binding. Its mutations also made it more easy to infect people who have had COVID-19. This means this Variant has a greater change to evade our body’s natural immune response.

Scientific Data has shown that the immune response we get from vaccines are stronger than what we get from a natural response to the virus. Therefore, we would see some persons who previously contracted COVID-19 becoming re-infected, and there would be persons who have taken the vaccine becoming infected with COVID-19 (breakthrough cases). But the difference being seen is that the effect on vaccinated individuals is less severe with possibly no symptoms and are less likely to be admitted to the hospital.

The virus has evolved, and will continue to produce variants, some which may give it an advantage. So if we want to prevent the possibility of a deadlier, and more transmissible strain from developing, we need to stop the Virus.

The Pandemic is not over, even if it feels that way to some of us. The virus has mutated to become more transmissible. Now is not the time for the Turks and Caicos, nor the rest of the world to let its guard down.

The Delta Variant is now presenting as the prevalent variant in a number of countries, and certainly it is now present in the Turks & Caicos. The more we test the more we pick up on silent cases in our communities.

We are now better equipped to respond to the pandemic, and our ability to test is now so much better. Our hospital capacity is now much better to deal with COVID patients, including the availability of oxygen generation.

The New PNP Government must now do its part and insure that our Health Care System stays adequately staffed with the necessary health professionals to care for our hospitalized individuals, and that the right complement of health workers is employed to respond to Outbreaks and Pandemics, that is, having trained staff to perform Surveillance and Monitoring activities, Compliance activities, Testing and research, quarantining, vaccinating, community work, and School Health.

Additionally, the new PNP Government needs to make the tough, and sometimes unpopular decision to ensure that the right policies and guidelines are put in place for the mitigation of further spread of Variants, and for protecting our country and our people.

We should never just focus on what we are seeing today, but must always try to keep a few steps ahead of the virus, by looking at what future advances and abilities are needed. The Government should be looking at what are the technologies and enhancements we could make based on the lessons we have learned, and making the containment, monitoring, and reduction in spread of COVID Variant, and other new viruses much better the next time around.

 

Hon. Edwin A. Astwood

Leader of the Opposition

Caribbean News

Vaccine Mandate hits like a HURRICANE; Cancellations crush September prospects

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#TurksandCaicos, September 9, 2021 – The Minister of Health is finding it difficult to believe that cancellations are as high as residents are claiming.  In a tone deaf presentation the minister pointed to visitor arrival numbers at the airport, the usual September slow down, hurricane hits and nefarious attempts at fearmongering as the basis for his lack of faith on the figures.

“What I am saying is that when you compare to where we usually were, to where we are now, and again we are still in COVID and we’re doing better, and I am also saying that (hey) safety first, and I’m also saying that cancellations happen. Because, usually around September 6 or 8 in the Turks and Caicos, we usually get a big hurricane. So if a hurricane hit the Turks and Caicos Islands right now – God forbid, knock on wood – they would have the same level of cancellations or more.  Now this was a decision, one is man-made, one is natural but it is the same result,” said Hon Jamell Robinson, TCI Minister of Health.

The minister was speaking at a Wednesday night press conference where among other things, he got on the defence about claims of cancellations and estimations on losses suffered due to a new travel entry requirement.  Visitors, over the age of 16, are now required to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, in order to be green-lighted for travel to the Turks and Caicos.  Cancellations are estimated to be in the tens of thousands inclusive of resorts, airlines, tours and excursions, boutique activities and concierge services.

The Turks and Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association reports 13,000 cancellations from September to mid-November for 12 of its largest member properties including the Hartling Group, Grace Bay Resorts and Beaches Turks and Caicos.  One member, said Stacy Cox, TCHTA Executive Director, reported 5k cancelled vacations.

Similar reports came from smaller business operators which suffered the trickle-down effect of the decision announced on August 12, for activation a mere three weeks later.

“It isn’t a case where anyone is discounting what may have happened in terms of their totality of their cancellations, yes, but it’s not as if them being in the business long term, they haven’t seen these types of scenarios where they have this level of passengers coming into the country because this is traditionally the time, most properties do their renovations,” Minister Robinson on Wednesday.

The minister’s comments were most suited to the larger tourism stakeholders and it demonstrated what the small and micro companies have been vocalizing since the announcement, which came on his debut as the new health minister; that he is out of touch with the wider marketplace and smaller operations.

“I have people cancelling and no one consulted the small businesses.  I have lost eight jobs between September and October; that’s $20,000 gone.  I have bills to pay, rent to pay and my landlord is not understanding that what happened is outside of my control.  No one engaged the small business person and I wish they had.”

A business owner in North Caicos offered that the activation of the new policy was so sudden that even “if guests who had bookings in September wanted to get vaccinated, they would hardly have had the opportunity to do so.  It was not thought out, it was just too sudden.”

Another entrepreneur offered the decision may have been more “appreciated if it were 90 days off.”

Several were infuriated that the consultation on the decision was so narrow; banks which “may have to extend me some late payment courtesies because I lost all of my villa reservations informed me they were not asked to consider negative repercussions for borrowers.  It was a big blow.”

The Minister said his visit to the airport on September 4, which was after the new vaccine mandate policy took effect, there were 1,274 passengers on Saturday.  The figure topped the best daily total in September 2019, when a slightly lesser 1,131 guests were recorded.

“The highest passenger arrivals for any day during September (2019) was 1131;so despite all the fearmongering, coming from certain quarters within the TCI, we are simply experiencing a pre-Covid slow season.  No more, no less.”

However, records reflect that from September 3- October 15, 2019, Beaches Resort, which accounts for 70 per cent of visitor arrivals, was closed therefore passengers were expectantly less in number.

This year, Beaches Resort is opened with no plans to shut for the season.

In fact, we found that in 2018, while Beaches Resort remained open, 12 other major properties including Gansevoort, Point Grace, Meridian Club and Ocean Clubs were closed.

In September 2017, Turks and Caicos was scarred and debilitated by hurricanes Irma and Maria and in 2020, the pandemic and a closed Beaches Resort plunged arrival numbers and helped the TCI sink into an economic depression.

These factors are very likely among the reasons the year 2021 was proving to truthfully be a banner year for many.

With keen interest in Turks and Caicos vacations, visitors were flocking to the destination in almost pre-pandemic fashion. Pent up demand, low infection numbers, high vaccine uptake, proximity to the U.S. and the natural allure of the islands was drawing a healthy number of tourists.  With that interest came more cases of Covid-19.

The PNP Administration, in its fortnightly Cabinet Meeting came to the controversial decision after reviewing a six week period where 68 percent of infections or 90 of 133 people with coronavirus were tourists.

Tourists, including vacation home owners in the Turks and Caicos would have to be fully vaccinated once over the age of 16; returning residents who were vaccinated needed to prove they were fully vaccinated prior to departure from the islands and returning residents who were unvaccinated, had to provide a negative PCR or Antigen test in order to get approve through the TCI Assured portal.

Additionally, these residents are now required to quarantine with their entire household for seven days, a test is required on day five of the return.

The Cabinet also agreed to shorten the time for negative tests, from five days to three days; this is mandatory for everyone except vaccinated returning residents.

“This actually provides us with some breathing room, to be able to get the cases down as well as reposition our brand because it is not as if we haven’t done it in the past,” explained Minister Robinson who added, the high vaccination rate and vaccine only tourist policy are great selling points which can increase interest in the destination.

Though pressured to do so, the Minister was reticent about fingering the entity or entities he believes is guilty of “fear mongering.”

There was no information from the Minister on what Government is doing to now track if there are new bookings as a result of the vaccine mandate.

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Bahamas News

Bahamas announces detected ‘Variants of Concern’ for Public Health

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#TheBahamas, September 9, 2021 – On Wednesday (September 8) the Ministry of Health received results from the FIOCRUZ Laboratory in Brazil that confirms the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

The National Reference Laboratory submitted ninety-eight (98) SARS-CoV-2 virus-positive samples to the FIOCRUZ Laboratory for genomic sequencing. The samples were collected between 6th May 2021, and 8th August, 2021, from individuals on New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Andros, Eleuthera, Exuma and Bimini.

Genomic sequencing showed the following: Variants of Concern (VOC) Lineage Number of Recovered Sequences:

Alpha B.1.1.7                                                          39

Delta B.1.617.2 (including sub lineages AY*)     41

Gamma P.1                                                              1

There are 18 samples still going through the testing process.

The new sequencing results confirm that the Delta variant is the predominant variant in The Bahamas, followed by the Alpha and Gamma variants.

It is noteworthy to mention that the Alpha variant is more transmissible than the original COVID19 virus, and the Delta variant is known to be more transmissible than the Alpha variant. Consequently, all major health facilities in New Providence and Grand Bahama are experiencing increased numbers of cases, hospital admissions and deaths due to COVID-19. 2 The health care system of both the public and private sectors is now severely challenged and over-burdened, and as a result, non-COVID-19 cases requiring health care are at risk of not being able to access life-saving health care.

Given the predominance of these highly transmissible variants in the country, it is essential to seek medical care early and avoid home remedies that delay accessing medical care. Do not delay seeking medical help if you experience signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Contact your healthcare provider or nearest public health clinic for more information. Members of the public are strongly urged to avoid gatherings of groups of more than five people, remain physically distant – at least 6ft apart – from others, wear a mask at all times, and wash your hands regularly.

Additionally, we strongly encourage all citizens and residents of The Bahamas to be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccinations are proven to be safe. They are known to decrease the severity of illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, if infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and all its variants. To book an appointment visit vax.gov.bs or make a walk-up appointment.

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Health

Ministry of Health confirms a single case of Mu COVID-19 variant 

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#TurksandCaicos, September 9, 2021 – A single individual has been identified with the Mu variant in the TCI. This result was included in the last batch of results received from the Caribbean Public Health Agency for sequencing on 30th July 2021. At the time, the variant was listed among 8 other results received in which identified 4 cases of the delta variant. The individual has since recovered.
Viruses are known to mutate and result in variants which may have different characteristics.
The delta variant remains the dominant variant circulating in at least 170 countries since it was first identified in October 2020 and has rapidly spread and is highly transmissible. It may also be associated with more severe disease.
The mu variant or B.1.621, was added to the WHO’s list of variants “of interest” only last week and has mutations which may indicate that it can evade the immune protection provided by natural infection or vaccination. The mu variant was first detected in Colombia but has now been confirmed in over 39 countries. This variant is being closely monitored along with other variants of interest in order to determine whether it will be classified as a variant of concern along with the four main variants of concern which are the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants.
SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 variants, if considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, are raised for formal investigation. At this point they are designated Variant Under Investigation (VUI). Following a risk assessment, they may be designated Variant of Concern (VOC).
Vaccines remain critical to the overall response to the COVID19 pandemic and are still shown to be effective in reducing the risk of contracting COVID19 as well as preventing hospitalization and death including against the circulating variants.
The Ministry of Health reminds the general public of the importance in following public health advice including;
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Maintain physical distancing of 6 feet between persons
  • Wear face coverings in public settings (covering nose and mouth)
  • Avoid mass gatherings or crowds
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or use disposable tissues
  • Comply with public health measures
  •  Stay home where possible, especially if you are a member of the vulnerable group
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 which include; cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath, fever, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell-please stay home and contact the Health Hotlines on 232 9444 or 333 0911
  • Do not visit health care facilities if you have symptoms or signs of COVID-19, call the Health Hotlines for guidance unless your symptoms are severe
  • If you are under quarantine by the Public Health Team, please remain at home and comply with the guidance provided to you.
  •  If you are contacted by the Public Health Team as a part of contact tracing activities, please provide all of the information requested to assist them in their investigations
  • Get tested-visit your community testing sites for free testing offered by the Ministry of Health
  • Stay informed with the latest information from the Ministry of Health by visiting our website on https://www.gov.tc/moh/coronavirus/

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