The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in Barbados yet, but health authorities are fully preparing for its arrival.
Minister of Health and Wellness The Most Honourable Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic Tuesday declared the island was on high alert as he cautioned that it was not a matter of if but when the fast-spreading variant, now confirmed in 77 countries including neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, will reach here.
Speaking to reporters after he received two vehicles on behalf of the Ministry of Health from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Bostic revealed that a national technical advisory team comprising officials from the University of the West Indies, the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners and PAHO have presented recommendations to Cabinet to ramp up efforts to keep the country safe.
While Government is standing its ground on the non-introduction of travel bans, the Minister of Health made it clear that the country’s ports of entry will be on guard.
“We have been in contact with PAHO for guidance and we will be issuing some measures that will be taken in this country in relation to the entry protocols. We are not banning any countries at all and there will be one or two slight adjustments that will be addressed in the coming days,” he disclosed.
In the meantime, he assured that authorities will continue to send samples to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for testing.
“If we find anything, we will certainly declare that it is here, but one thing that I can say, and this is just for people to understand, the mere fact that this thing is within our source markets, it has started to enter into the region, Barbados is not immune and like all the other variants at some point in time it will end up here. The fact is that there ain’t a single country that can keep these variants out.
“Our responsibility is to try to delay the arrival as much as we can, but the greater responsibility is to adhere to the protocols so that whether or not it is here, that we will keep ourselves safe,” Minister Bostic added.
Omicron was first detected in the Caribbean when Bermuda reported its first case on December 8, while Trinidad and Tobago reported an imported case on Monday.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the Omicron variant was present in most countries around the world and spreading at an unprecedented rate.
And WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern that the variant was being underestimated.
“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he cautioned.
Minister Bostic said Government’s enhanced surveillance will especially target citizens.
He said: “What we definitely decided on was the fact that we’ve seen in this country, more and more persons who are not following the basic protocols of mask wearing, distancing and sanitizing. We are going to embark on a new wave of public announcements and public relations efforts and education efforts, because this holds the key in whatever scenario or situation we find ourselves in, and so this is something that we are going to be pushing going forward.”
“Delta came in, it gave us a hard lash, but the vast majority of the population did not catch it. Why? Because we believe the vast majority of the population is vaccinated and have been keeping and adhering to the non-pharmacological protocols — sanitizing, distancing and the wearing of masks,” the Health Minister added.
In recent days, COVID-19 infections in Barbados have been on the decline.
The latest figures show 85 positive cases were recorded on Monday from 1,052 tests conducted by the Best dos Santos Public Health Laboratory.