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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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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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Bahamas News

PAHO RECOMMENDS COVID-19 VACCINES FOR PREGNANT AND LACTATING WOMEN

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#Jamaica, September 9, 2021 – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is recommending coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines for pregnant women after their first trimester and mothers who are breastfeeding.

PAHO Director, Dr. Carissa Etienne, said that COVID-19 vaccines are critical tools for safeguarding expectant and lactating mothers during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 vaccines, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), are safe to administer during pregnancies. [Additionally] as the mother breastfeeds, she passes immunity to her baby, so COVID-19 vaccines can also help to protect newborns from the virus,” she noted.

Dr. Etienne was speaking during PAHO’s COVID-19 digital briefing on Wednesday (September 8).

The PAHO Director pointed out that pregnant women, who contract COVID-19, have a higher risk of developing serious symptoms and, more frequently, require ventilation and intensive care.

Additionally, she said they have a greater chance of experiencing premature delivery.

“So far, more than 270,000 pregnant women in the Americas have become sick with COVID, and more than 2,600 of them or one per cent of those infected have died from the virus. Most countries in our region have already reported more cases and deaths among pregnant women this year than all of 2020,” she noted, lamenting that less than half of Latin American and Caribbean nations have rolled out guidelines to inoculate this cohort.

Stating that vaccinations have proven to be a central intervention in protecting pregnant women, Dr. Etienne said that in Mexico, where they have been prioritised for inoculation “for some time”, none who has been vaccinated has succumbed to the virus during pregnancy.

“So, it’s extremely important that pregnant women have access to COVID vaccines,” Dr. Etienne stressed.

In addition to the vaccines, the PAHO Director said it is also imperative that countries maintain access to healthcare services that are critical to keeping pregnant women on track for safe births, including routine screenings.

She noted that the pandemic has significantly impacted prenatal care and associated service delivery, advising that 40 per cent of regional countries have reported disruptions in maternal and newborn care services, which have become more widespread in 2021.

She is also advising pregnant women to adhere to the public health measures, including the wearing of masks, maintaining physical distance, and limiting contact with people outside of their households.

“These are especially important to keep expectant mothers safe from COVID. We owe it to the women in Latin America and the Caribbean to use all the tools at our disposal to protect them and their babies during the pandemic,” Dr. Etienne emphasised.

By Douglas McIntosh, JIS News

Released: JIS

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