Mixed COVID-19 signals? Omicron BA.2 variant is in Jamaica, and there are questions about timing

I had asked whether we are “over” COVID-19 in Jamaica, since as of April 15 all remaining restrictions related to the pandemic have lapsed – including travel restrictions and mandatory mask wearing indoors.

Well, we are not quite over it, after all. I think we could have seen this one coming. Or did we know sooner? In fact, the new Omicron variant BA.2 has been in Jamaica since at least March 4, by the Government’s own admission.

I might add this question: Did we know that we had BA.2 variant on the island before the COVID-19 restrictions were completely lifted, on the eve of the non-stop-partying Easter holiday weekend?

In fact, Barbados reported cases of the Omicron BA.2 variant last week (April 14): 90 percent of their samples contained the variant, after Barbados sent them to the lab in Trinidad, which usually takes quite some time to get results. They have extended their COVID-19 Public Health Emergency until September 22nd 2022; a resolution was passed in their Parliament on Tuesday (April 19). So they knew they had cases so much earlier than we did?

Note: While we have “freed up” everything here in Jamaica, Barbados has amended its regulations to include:

A new directive where people may now receive a fixed penalty notice of BDS$100 (1 BDS$=US$0.50 cents) for not wearing a face mask in public.

The measure applies to a public building, public place, or while traveling on a public service vehicle or other public transport; whether as a driver, conductor or passenger.

Jamaica Observer, April 19, 2022

This raises some questions regarding timing: How come Barbados reported BA.2 cases so much earlier than Jamaica (and the vast majority of their samples, at that)? Does Jamaica still have a handful of cases (just two reported in the Ministry announcement?)

Why is the information provided in today’s press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness already so out of date? The samples were from January 1 to March 4. Why don’t we have any April numbers? This is particularly puzzling, since we do know that Jamaica, after great efforts made, now has a genome sequencer, so we can do it quickly, on the spot. Why aren’t we continuously testing samples? If we are not, why not?

My fellow blogger and tweeter Susan Goffe asked the following:

How long does it take to do sequencing? Is this the normal time lag we should expect with testing being done here or has there been a problem? Is a backlog being cleared? If samples taken today are sent for sequencing,when would we get the results?

One thing is for sure: the mixed signals certainly aren’t helping. Last week, we were “freed” of COVID restrictions, officially. This week, our Chief Medical Officer is encouraging us to practice infection prevention and control measures, as those with co-morbidities (my husband, for example) are at risk.

Well, which is it? Masks or not? Why was the mask mandate completely lifted just a week ago? What was the medical thinking behind this or was it just a “feel good” thing, so we could all have fun over Easter? Are we going to see our public officials, ministers etc not wearing masks in public, despite the CMO’s advice? What are businesses and public transport to do about this?

And how are senior citizens, the immuno-compromised, diabetics and more, to deal with this? Continue hiding at home? What will the situation be for schools? What about “long COVID,” an issue that has been around for years but is I think mentioned for the first time by the Health Ministry?

Considering that Jamaica has the lowest vaccination rate in Latin America and the Caribbean – less than one quarter fully vaccinated – we had better be careful.

I don’t know about you, but I am quite tired of these spiky little things (in this graphic they look quite pretty, but of course they are not).

Here is the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ press release:

Omicron BA.2 variant now in Jamaica

  • Public urged to continue practicing IPC Measures

KINGSTON, Jamaica. Thursday, April 21, 2022: The Ministry of Health & Wellness has been advised that the latest gene sequencing results from the National Influenza Centre at the University Hospital of the West Indies have indicated the presence of the Omicron BA.2 variant in Jamaica. Eighty-nine (89) samples were sequenced with sample dates from January 1 to March 4, 2022. Of those, 98.9 % were Omicron variants and 1.1 % Delta variant. Of the Omicron samples, two (2) of 88 or 2.3 % were BA.2 variant and 97.7% were BA.1 variant.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie cautioned that “the BA.2 variant according to World Health Organization (WHO) is the dominant variant globally and the type of illness associated with this variant is similar to the BA.1 variant. The Variant is highly transmissible and as a result, there may be an increase in number of COVID-19 cases.”

“While majority of cases appear to be mild, persons with comorbidities are at risk for severe illness and persons who have mild symptoms and no symptoms may be at risk for developing long COVID. The public is therefore encouraged to practice infection prevention and control measures, including wearing of masks, hand washing, physical distancing and staying home if you are sick,” added the CMO.

The Ministry of Health & Wellness reminds the public that vaccines are widely available and protect against severe illness. All persons 12 years and older should visit any of the over 200 vaccination centres to be vaccinated if they have not already done so. Persons who are eligible for boosters are encouraged to take the booster dose now as their level of protection may have waned over time.  

Public Health Nurse, Marcia Thomas-Yetman, was the first person in Jamaica to receive the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 10, 2021. Since then, our vaccination drive has virtually ground to a halt. (Photo: Michael Sloley/Jamaica Information Service)


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