Barbados has recorded its first case of the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant. Chief Medical Officer, Dr. The Most Honourable Kenneth George, broke the news to the country this afternoon during a televised end-of-year update.
“We’ve had confirmation of Omicron by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), a single case. And, to date, that is the only confirmed case we have had. However, I must couch that by saying that we have been doing preliminary sequencing at the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory. And there is also preliminary evidence that Omicron is established in Barbados. We do not need to panic. We have come this road before,” he stated.
The Chief Medical Officer shared that 247 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Wednesday, December 29, out of 1,366 tests. He added that all of “our indices are trending upwards again”.
Dr. George explained that the Re (effective reproduction number) for the virus had moved from 0.8 to 1.44. The Re is the number of people in a population who can be infected by an individual at any specific time. If the Re is above one, transmission is occurring, if it is below, then transmission is contained.
Over the past week, he said that the positivity rate had risen from five per cent to eight per cent, as well as the cumulative 14-day and seven-day averages (per 100,000 population).
“At this juncture, the assumption is…that Omicron is here. We have sent laboratory samples to CARPHA, and we expect to have those results in seven to 10 days. Those samples were carefully selected because either of low cycle threshold (CT) values or unusual presentations. Once we have this [information] we will share it with the public,” he said.
While Omicron is highly contagious, Dr. George pointed out that “on the good side” studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom showed that the level of severity of the disease as well as deaths appeared to be lower than that seen with the Delta variant.
However, he cautioned that Barbados faced two challenges – a vulnerable population, which is the elderly, and a high burden of non-communicable diseases.
He said these two groups had taken the burden of the illness, and based on volume, had the potential to overrun the health care system.
The Chief Medical Officer reinforced the importance of following the established protocols so persons could protect themselves from contracting the virus. He implored citizens to:
- Wear masks at all times when in public spaces, when in close quarters with others or indoors
- Practise physical distancing
- Sanitise hands as frequently as possible
- Get vaccinated
“Vaccines offer protection…. Fortunately, we have reached approximately 62 per cent of the eligible population…and I am happy with that. I would like to see our goal before mid-2022 to be 75 per cent of the eligible population. So, I am again asking the public to work with us.
“Boosters are well available in Barbados and from the limited information we have on Omicron, persons with boosters have better protection. We are at 42 per cent of the population who can be boosted and I would like to see that rise. I am encouraging persons to come forward. All of our sites have boosters available and there are four vaccines that are available,” Dr. George underscored.
He said the Ministry of Health and Wellness was working to ensure the safety of the population and had put proposals in place to “normalise the process of living in Barbados with COVID”.