Deyalsingh: ‘No knee-jerk, panic reaction to UK Covid-19 strain’; no further restrictions

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said his ministry would not be recommending any further restrictions in response to the detection of the first confirmed case of the UK Covid-19 variant.

“We are reviewing, as we have been reviewing, the epidemiological evidence … now that we have this one isolated, contained case,” he said. “It is too early to make knee-jerk, panic reactions. We don’t do that.”

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh (centre) is flanked by TTRNA vice-president Letitia Cox (left) and president Idi Stuart respectively during a meeting on 14 January 2021.
(via Ministry of Health)

He added that right now, the message remains to be vigilant and adhere to public health measures.

Chief medical officer Roshan Parasram explained that the UK variant case was detected from a national returning from the UK on 6 January 2021. The national had received a 72-hour RT-PCR test which turned out to be a false negative.

In a John Hopkins University study released in May 2020, researchers confirmed that a negative PCR test was likely to be followed by a later positive test if administered too soon after a person had been infected. The false negatives occurred if swabs missed infected cells when the test was administered and if viral levels were very low early in the infection.

The study reviewed the data from seven prior studies, which covered a combined total of 1,330 respiratory swab samples from a variety of subjects.

The analysis found that a test administered four days after infection was 67% likely to give a false positive. The sensitivity of the test improved about a week after infection. Still, after eight days, the test was 20% likely to give a false negative.

Photo: A patient is swabbed for Covid-19.

The T&T national was tested on day six of being quarantined and the result came back positive for Covid-19. The CMO said the person was then transferred to a step-down facility with other nationals who had tested positive. The returnee was subsequently moved to an isolation area at the Couva hospital.

Scientists at the University of the West Indies conducting genome sequencing on Caribbean samples then discovered the UK variant B117.

Deyalsingh said that the 49 other passengers on the repatriation flight were also under state quarantine for seven days after their arrival. They were released into a seven-day home quarantine after testing negative for the virus.

Speaking about the new variants of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, Dr Avery Hinds, technical director of the epidemiology division, said that in various studies, the UK variant was estimated to be about 50–70% more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

Despite being more easily spread, however, the variants did not appear to cause more severe symptoms. Dr Hinds said that in the UK, hospitalisations and deaths had not changed.

Photo: A test for the novel coronavirus.

He also said the variant did not make the virus harder to detect as PCR and antigen tests performed as expected. For now, there was also no evidence that the current vaccines would not be as effective against the new strain. But, he reported, vaccine efficacy was being reviewed continually.

So far, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that the UK variant, or B117 variant, has been detected in 60 countries. Meanwhile, the new variant first detected in South Africa has been found in 23 other countries.

Today the ministry reported six new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country, bringing the total number of cases reported since March 2020 to 7456. No new deaths were reported, so the death toll stands at 133.

There are 332 active cases with 39 patients in the hospital and six in step-down facilities. State quarantine facilities are housing 312 people and a further 281 are in self-isolation.

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