COVID-19 update and press conference – February 15, 2021. (PMO)

Plans are afoot to strengthen the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory to conduct continuous genomic surveillance to detect the presence of other strains of the novel coronavirus on the island.

This was revealed by Senior Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr. Anton Best, and later confirmed by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, during the latest COVID-19 update press conference at Ilaro Court this afternoon.

Dr. Best shared that based on a meeting last Saturday with health officials, including representatives from the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, to examine issues surrounding the lab, one of the recommendations coming out of that meeting that was shared with the wider Emergency Operations Centre on Sunday, was the need to do continuous genomic surveillance.

“In other words, it was a one-off thing that we did three weeks ago, where we sent samples to see what variant was circulating, but in order to know if that variant continues to circulate and to what extent, and heaven forbid, if we were to get any other variants, we are now putting a programme in place to do continuous surveillance,” he stated.

The Senior Medical Officer said the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad had signalled to Barbados that it could continue sending its samples for testing, but Dr. Best said he believes that it was more sustainable and wiser to build capacity at the lab to do surveillance on the island.

“We are exploring and as we get more information, more definitive plans and timelines, we will share that with the public,” he assured.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mia Amor Motttley disclosed that she met with Minister of Health and Wellness, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic; Chair of Cabinet’s Sub-Committee on COVID-19 and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Dr. Jerome Walcott, and head of the Best-dos Santos Public Health Laboratory, Dr. Songee Beckles, as well as identifying persons with a Masters in Genomics to assist Government with developing the capacity within the lab going forward and “other things that will be critical”.

“We believe that Barbados has a future in Bio-technology and Genetic Engineering, but we need to get it right. So this, in effect, pushed us in that direction, and I know that the lab also has a very close relationship with a lab out of Canada which will continue to help us in this regard,” the Prime Minister pointed out.

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