Public health officials are in a heightened state of alert with respect to Barbados’ borders in light of the emergence of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant.
However, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George, said that banning travellers from the countries with cases of the new variant was not “an absolute and good public health measure”.
Speaking during a COVID-19 press briefing this morning, Dr. George explained that, to date, about 30 countries, some of them Barbados’ tourism source markets, had reported cases of the variant.
He added that the country’s travel protocols remained the same, at present, as the Ministry of Health and Wellness monitored the situation.
He further noted that little was currently known about Omicron, except that it had the capacity to spread quickly. As for implementing travel bans, the Chief Medical Officer said such a measure would only postpone the inevitable.
“Banning the movement of people is a method for only delaying possible transmission. It is not an absolute and good public health measure. We will continuously examine the evidence and will come to the public to update them. We are on a heightened state of alert with respect to our borders. However, our protocols have not changed to date. I am very aware that some countries in the region may have gone extra miles but that depends on the peculiarities in their population but the public health team [here] will continue to give sound advice to policymakers with respect to our directions in a state of Omicron,” Dr. George said.
He suggested that the emergence of Omicron was “a golden opportunity” to reconsider those persons in society who were unvaccinated. So far, about 57 per cent of Barbados’ eligible population (those 12 years and older) has been vaccinated but Dr. George estimates it will take 65 per cent of the eligible population being vaccinated “by January next year” to reduce community spread.
The Chief Medical Officer pointed out that 90 per cent of those who had died from COVID-19 were unvaccinated and urged persons with comorbidities to get vaccinated as soon as possible. He said those on the top of this list would be individuals with renal failure.
“Persons who have renal disease or who are on dialysis consistently have poor outcomesand, therefore, it is absolutely critical that that segment of the population which I estimate to be about 275 individuals…be vaccinated because renal disease is certainly a marker for a poor outcome,” Dr. George emphasised.
He added that within the last two to three weeks the number of positive cases had been trending downwards. However, he made the announcement with some level of caution.
“Why I say so with caution is that within the last two weeks, we’ve had two very young individuals who have lost their lives. One 28-year-old and a 22-year-old. And, although these individuals did have conditions that put them at an increased risk for COVID, I believe these should not have been lives lost.
“The situation has put several families at this time in mourning. This did not need to occur because the preventive measures which we have invested in and told you about over several months still need better actions. I am again asking individuals that because of our current situation and because of the likelihood of persons with comorbid conditions dying at a very young age, please let commonsense prevail,” he implored.