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Jamaica Observer – OPPOSITION spokesperson on health and wellness, Dr Morais Guy has a problem with some of the things that Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor McKenzie has been saying about the variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Dr Guy believes that the CMO needs to get to the root of the matter regarding the existence of clear-cut evidence that the variant of the COVID-19 virus – found in the United Kingdom and of which four confirmed cases are in the island – causes increased transmission.
Speaking during a press briefing on Saturday night following the revelation that four passenger samples from the recent UK flight to Jamaica have been confirmed positive for the new strain, the CMO said “there is as yet no concrete evidence as to whether or not this virus causes increased transmission. We have seen reports coming out of the UK that would suggest there is an increased, up to 70 per cent, transmission rate with this new variant but we really have no concrete virological studies that have proven that as yet, and this is why Jamaica remains cautious in terms of our approach and therefore we continue to have a restriction on the travel from the UK as we wait on the investigations to see”.
She further noted that there are some 20 countries that would have reported that they have one or two cases, while some countries reported five or six cases of the new UK variant, pointing out that “none of these countries have actually indicated that they have seen increased transmission that they think is due to this variant, and so that report is really only coming out of the UK so far.
“We continue to watch the situation. We will always move to do our best to protect the population however, we do not see any indication of any report such as that right now and the cases that are being reported are very few in these 20 countries,” Bisasor-McKenzie added.
But speaking with the Jamaica Observer yesterday Dr Guy said the CMO was being evasive in her response.
“The latest that I got out of the UK in terms of their medical data is that initially they thought it had a 70 per cent transmissibility rate, but based on the latest they have reduced this to about 40 per cent. Based on that I would not necessarily agree with her. I think she has been sort of euphemistic in saying there is no clear evidence, but there is,”
“The authorities initially thought it was able to spread 70 per cent faster but now they have reduced that, so I don’t think we should be sitting on our laurels and saying there is no clear-cut evidence. It goes against what they are saying as well that the virus is new and we do not know as much about it as we think we do. I would rather as a country we err on the side of caution because if we were to listen to what Professor Peter Figueroa said as well [in recent comments], while there is no proof, he is of the view that the variant might have been in Jamaica from around September of last year,” Dr Guy maintained.
In the meantime, Dr Guy said the assurance by the health authorities here that the confirmed cases of the variant were low, is a false one. The four positive samples were among the 20 confirmed coronavirus cases out of the 301 passengers who arrived from the UK on December 21. Passengers from the flight were quarantined and tested, which saw the 20 passengers from the flight testing positive for the disease. The samples were sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for further evaluation.
“What is interesting is that 20 samples were sent to CARPHA but only six were found to have sufficient viral load to enable genomic sequencing to determine the variant and of that six, four came back positive. So the question that one needs to ask is [since] it’s not four of 20, it’s four of six, statistically, if it is four of six, it means that if we find there might be more positive cases then this might just be the tip of the iceberg that we are seeing,’ Dr Guy posited.
“I think that particular point needs to be elaborated that this is four of the six samples, which is basically 80 per cent… so what we can extrapolate is that had the 20 samples had sufficient viral loads to undergo genomic sequencing then it’s very likely that we could have seen 13 to 14 of that 20….so the assurance that he is giving the country that the numbers are low is a false assurance,” he noted.
Speaking on Saturday, Dr Tufton said “as it relates to this strain of COVID-19, I want to say to the public that there is no evidence to confirm that the strain causes a more severe illness or affects the efficacy of the current approved vaccine. The key is to follow the advice of the public health authority.
“We are monitoring what is happening in the United Kingdom and other jurisdictions. We are monitoring, we are learning as we go along. To date, the evidence is not so damning that one should feel more threatened – except of course that it spreads more rapidly”.
He, in the meantime, cautioned “Jamaica remains in community transmission. The virus is everywhere”.
Up to Saturday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness said there were a total 13,049 confirmed cases in the island and expressed concern that several parishes, including Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, St Ann and St James and Westmoreland, were showing a worrying increase in cases.