‘Delta’s’ spread ‘shows no sign of letting up’, top docs say

Main mutation sites of the Indian coronavirus variant B.1.617. The spike protein (red) is bound to the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (blue).

The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the dreaded COVID-19 virus shows no sign of letting up, health officials warned Thursday, as they urged Barbados and other Caribbean states to ramp up vaccinations against the deadly virus.

Agreeing that the Delta variant was “like a whole new pandemic”, the Caribbean Public Health Agency’s Executive Director Dr Joy St John and Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best insisted that people follow the protocols and get vaccinated.

“The only way we are going to get out of this hole, and my apologies straight up front to the anti-vaxxers, but it is to be vaccinated,” said Dr St John.

“I am not saying the vaccine will stop you from contracting. Not at all, but it is going to stop you from having the very severe forms of illness and usually death. The caveat is that if you are someone with a lot of co-morbidity and you are fully vaccinated with an approved WHO vaccine you still are at greater risk even though you are fully vaccinated.

“So Delta is the version that has really found the chinks in our public health act and open them up wide and we have got several people falling through the cracks in terms of illness and, unfortunately, death.”

Dr St John and Dr Best were speaking during one of the COVID-19 series organised by COVID-19 Public Advisor David Ellis on Thursday.

Dr St John said she is urging countries to carefully monitor “what is happening internally and always ensure that your level of illness does not overwhelm your health services and if there is a risk of that put strategies in place to reduce transmission”.

But she pointed out that even if countries have good strategies in place they should expect to still “struggle with some issues” because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus and the fact that the region had a lot of people who suffered from at least one non-communicable disease.

While the COVID-19 infection rate in Barbados is still considered low, the number of COVID-19 patients has been averaging just over 350 per day over the past month.

On Tuesday, the island recorded 391 new cases and six deaths. The death toll from the COVID-19 virus stood at 151 as of Wednesday with 71 of those deaths taking place in October alone.

“It is very difficult for me to watch what is happening in Barbados because I never thought I would see this day . . . I never thought I would see Barbados struggling the way that it is. It hurts me,” said Dr St John.

Pointing out that it was critical to find the right balance to uplift the economy and to save lives, Dr St John said she understood it was not an easy task and she called on all Caribbean people to play a role in stemming the spread of the virus.

She expressed concern that some people were using “sophisticated strategies” to encourage people not to take the jab.

She said: “I think that we have got a very formidable foe and I think what we are dealing with is the reality of Delta coming into an environment where there is a lot of vaccine hesitation against the COVID vaccines, as well as a rather sophisticated strategy from anti-vaxxers to actually prevent people from being vaccinated. So if there is a measure that we need to improve on is the whole issue of communication so that you get more people to be vaccinated quickly.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Best pointed out that although the number of deaths from the virus for the month of October so far doubled that of September (29 deaths), the case fatality ratio was “not that bad. It is actually 1.3 per cent”.

But insisting that it was still desirable to eliminate any death from the coronavirus, Dr Best said: “I don’t know where we would be if we did not have vaccines to help prevent and to help reduce the mortality associated with COVID.”

The two officials were joined by Chairman of the Grenada COVID Health Subcommittee Dr Bert Brathwaite, and Chief Medical Officer of St Lucia Dr Sharon Belmar-George, who shared experiences and updates on what lessons they have learned so far in their countries.

Dr Best said had Barbados not introduced the current measures in place, which include the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, work from home where possible and online school, the rate of transmission would have been a lot higher.

The health officials explained that with the Alpha variant, one infected individual would be able to pass the virus on to one or two others in a room of ten people, but with the Delta variant in that same room it would lead to between 8 and 10 new infections.

“Our reproductive rate that we worked out is about 1.4 so we are still getting a lot of transmission. What we want is for that reproductive rate to be below one,” said Dr Best.

He was unable to say from what sector most of the cases were now coming, but indicated that a lot of the new positive cases were along the urban corridor, including mainly Christ Church.

He agreed that more could be done to curtail the spread, adding that it will require private sector, individuals and non-governmental organisations to make better choices.

“If more people adhere to the protocols that we have out there, which are effective, the numbers would go down,” said Dr Best. 

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