By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HEALTH officials are still waiting to receive the test results of 52 positive COVID-19 samples which were sent abroad to determine if any of the new coronavirus strains are present in The Bahamas.
More than 80 countries, including the US, have already detected COVID-19 mutations, which were first spotted in the UK. Another strain out of South Africa is also said to have spread to some 30 countries. Meanwhile, in Brazil, a new coronavirus variant has also since been detected there.
Yesterday, the director of the National Reference Laboratory, Dr Indira Martin told The Tribune there is no evidence at the moment to suggest that any of the new strains are currently present in the country.
“We’re still waiting unfortunately so that’s pretty much the status,” she said when contacted by this newspaper. “It’s an arduous process I’d say — importing samples into another country so that creates some lags but I’m sure that once the results are available for my part, I will send them directly to the CMO (chief medical officer) and I know that she will probably make the announcement.”
According to Dr Martin, 52 positive COVID-19 samples were sent to a reference laboratory in Brazil several weeks ago. It is not clear when test results will be released, but Dr Martin said officials are hoping soon.
“Well, the thing is PAHO is providing the countries in the region to get this genomic surveillance done so that’s their collective regional reference lab in Brazil and so in the end, we ended up sending 52 samples. We intended to send 40 but it ended up being more just to try and take best advantage of new opportunities as we don’t have the facilities in (the) country… but hopefully we’ll get it soon but on an ongoing basis, we are also continuing to survey samples as they come in.”
Last week, the country recorded a total of 83 new infections, with five of those cases said to have a recent history of travel. Thursday and Friday had the highest number of confirmed infections, with 21 and 27 cases reported for those days respectively. Three virus-related deaths were also confirmed by health officials.
Dr Martin said the recent uptick in cases last week was very concerning.
Asked if she thought any of the new strains could be here in the country, she replied: “As long as the country is open, it’s always that possibility that it could be imported. We don’t have any evidence of it at the moment so I can’t speak to it but you’re right that those recent cases are a worrying indicator that we’re monitoring at the level of genomic surveillance as well and so we’re continuing to surveil using other mechanisms than PAHO going forward.”
The Bahamas does not have the capacity for the genomic sequencing that is necessary to determine if more infectious COVID-19 variants found abroad are present in the country.
However, Health Minister Renward Wells has previously said the government is currently looking at ways to secure the tools needed to do so.
Yesterday, Dr Martin added: “We’re exploring that as an option as well as other technical ways we can go about surveilling for these new strains that are not sequencer dependent because the problem is the availability of the DNA sequencing so we’re also looking into those alternatives which is PCR based technology going forward but I think that the initial samples that we sent will give us some insight into the last three of four months.”