Covid: With 9% global increase in cases; Guyana on the lookout for possible “spike” locally

People in Georgetown

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) reporting a 9% increase in Covid cases globally within the past two weeks, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony says local authorities are on the lookout for a possible spike here.

In recent weeks, Guyana has seen a significant decline in Covid infections – resulting in the government removing majority of the restrictions effective March 14.

There are currently roughly 121 active cases, with 13 hospitalised and one in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

The spike in Covid cases globally is being attributed to the BA.2 variant – a sublineage of the Omicron variant.

“Right now, we’re seeing a surge in cases in a number of countries. Over the last two weeks, the WHO has recorded a 9% increase in cases globally and when you actually disaggregate the numbers, most of those cases are actually coming from the Western Pacific. But these cases do not represent the true number because, a number of countries have also not been doing widescale testing so there might be some amount of underreporting and with the use of home kits, it is very difficult to capture the information from home kits…when people do the test at home, very often they do not report it…,” Dr Anthony explained during Friday’s update on the novel coronavirus situation.

“Nevertheless, seeing a 9% increase over the last two weeks is significant…so the BA.2 is playing a role,” he added.

Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony

Based on available data of transmission, severity, reinfection, diagnostics, therapeutics and impacts of vaccines, a WHO team reinforced in February 2022 that the BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron. The group emphasised that BA.2 should continue to be monitored as a distinct sublineage of Omicron by public health authorities.

In fact, BA.2 has doubled in prevalence over the past two weeks in the US and now represents more than 34% of Covid-19 infections that have undergone genetic sequencing, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.

Though BA.2 is rising in the US, leading public health officials in that country are not expecting another dramatic surge in cases, largely due to the level of immunity the population has from vaccination and the fierce outbreak during the winter Omicron wave.

“The bottom line is we’ll likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in the European countries, particularly the U.K.,” White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

BA.2 now represents about 44% of all positive cases in London as of March 10, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Guyana’s Health Minister pointed out, however, that when these events take place in other countries, there is often a delay if/until it reaches local shores.

“Generally, we would have a lag between when we would see it appearing in let’s say Europe or in North America, generally there is a month or so lag and then we would start seeing cases here as well,” he reasoned.

Nevertheless, Dr Anthony assured that, “we’re on the lookout for whether there’d be a spike.”

If there is a surge in local cases, the Health Minister assured that the government has not dismantled any of its systems.

The Infectious Disease Hospital where Covid-19 patients are being treated

“We haven’t dismantled our systems…hospital beds, ICU beds, we have them across the region. So, if people need hospitalisation, the systems are there to take care of them and we still have our testing capacity…so the systems are all in place, we haven’t dismantled them,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Dr Anthony also shared his views on calls by US airline CEOs for there to be an end of the mask wearing mandate on airplanes and international pre-departure testing requirements.

The chief executives of American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and 10 other carriers, including the chairman of Southwest Airlines and JetBlue’s CEO, said in a letter the restrictions “are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”

“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” the airline letter said.

The letter also cited relaxed rules in other countries and increasing vaccination rates for the reasons to stop requiring masks.

However, Dr Anthony contended that “it might be a little bit too soon to lift those mandates…but every country would have to make those decisions.”

He reasoned that, “in light of an increase now in global cases, we ought to a little bit more careful in terms of how we lift the mandates and how fast we lift those mandates.”

According to the Health Minister, mask wearing is the only means of protection for a lot of persons who are unable to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons.

“Even when the numbers are relatively low, you can still have a challenge because for persons who are immunocompromised, some of them might not be able to take the vaccines that are available and therefore they’ll remain unprotected and so the only way they can be protected is if they wear a mask and people around them are also wearing a mask,” Dr Anthony explained.

He also pointed out that there is the case of children aged five and lower since there is no vaccine available for them. He further reasoned that even though there is a vaccine available for the 11 to 5 age category, many countries – like Guyana – are yet to procure them.

As the situation regarding the pandemic continues to change and evolve on the international scene, Dr Anthony reasoned that, “I guess there will be a global discussion and we’ll see how different places react to it.”

In Guyana, a total of 437,757 persons or 85.3% of the adult population have received a first dose of a vaccine while 335,935 persons or 65.5% are inoculated with two doses.

For the 12 to 17 age group, 34,246 or 47% have received a first dose while 24,917 or 34.2% received two jabs.

In terms of booster doses, 56,348 shots have been administered.