The Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed that the Brazilian variant of the COVID-19 virus, which is far more transmissible than other strains, has been detected in Trinidad and Tobago.
The variant was detected in a sample that was sent to the University of the West Indies for genetic sequencing.
The sample was taken from a COVID-19 positive patient in the Nariva/Mayaro county.
“The contact tracing required to restrict the spread of the virus has already begun. Additionally, the public is reminded that all quarantine protocols remain in place to ensure the continued protection of the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” the ministry said in a statement.
It’s the first time a variant of concern has been found within the local population.
Both the UK (B117) and Brazilian variants have been detected locally in the past, however, it was detected in repatriated nationals or people seeking entry into the country.
Earlier in March, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram indicated that monitoring of samples for variants of concern from within the local population began due to the rate of spread being witnessed.
Before this point, only samples from repatriated nationals were monitored.
Professor of Medicine at the University of West Indies’ Faculty of Medical Sciences Professor Terrence Seemungal said he’s not surprised with the development and believes the variant is likely already in circulation among the population.
“I don’t know enough details about the person (who the variant was found in) whether the person was a traveller or not but if the person was found from within the community, I would expect that it has already spread,” he said.
Virology Professor Dr Christopher Oura emphasised the need for the variant to be eradicated.
“We know how to get rid of this virus. We know what to do. We need to test. We need to track and we need to trace,” he said.
“So we need to look very carefully at the area where it’s circulating and make sure we test and we track and we trace the virus so we catch as many of the people or all the people that have been infected and we make sure those people isolate, we make sure those people don’t pass the virus on to others.”
He, however, does not believe increased restrictions are necessary at this time.
“Not necessarily in response to this particular variant. I think what we have to do- we have to work out how far this particular variant is spreading and we have to look to see what other virus are spreading,” he said.
Dr Oura noted that in doing this, it needs to be determined how the variant was able to enter the country and treat it.
He underscored that the presence of the variant means that the public health guidelines and COVID-19 protocols need to be adhered to even more closely.
Professor Seemungal added that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is still effective against the Brazil variant.
About the Brazilian Variant of Concern (P1)
This variant was first detected in samples from Manaus in the Amazonas state in northern Brazil in mid-December. Simulations of P1’s properties suggest that the variant is 1.7 to 2.4 times more transmissible.
It is unclear yet if it is any deadlier. It can cause reinfection in people previously infected with another strain.
Preliminary data indicate that the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca is effective against the Brazilian variant without modification to the vaccine.