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CARPHA urges strategic entry testing for Delta Plus variant

by Marlon Madden
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Authorities in Barbados are being cautioned that even as the COVID-19 travel protocols have been adjusted for fully vaccinated travellers to the island, there will be a need for “strategic testing” of tourists coming from certain countries.

This advice came on Thursday from Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Dr Joy St John, who pointed to new and potentially more transmissible ‘Delta Plus’ strains of the virus, which have been detected in Barbados’ main tourist source market – the UK.

At the same time, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best defended Government’s decision for not putting stricter measures in place, explaining that there were several factors to consider.

Their comments came during a COVID-19 discussion on Thursday, as they joined 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.

Effective October 24, fully vaccinated visitors to Bridgetown with a valid negative PCR COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before travel are no longer required to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine on arrival to the island.

This means these travellers are now allowed to leave the port of entry with no restrictions.

However, while there has been an outcry from medical professionals about the measure, Government has defended the move, saying that the number of infections coming into Barbados through the airport was less than one per cent.

Dr St John explained that the very low return of positive rate from tourists entering the island made it difficult for government to keep pouring funds into maintaining full-on testing of all visitors at the airport when there was a clear increase of transmission in the community and you need to be able to test the community.

“The supplies for testing in the wider world are dwindling so you need to be strategic. So from that perspective, I understand,” said St John.

“However, I would exhort Dr Best to ensure that there is enough testing and also strategic testing. Not just scatter shot, we have got to do some testing from certain sending countries to ensure that you will capture the inevitable introduction of the Delta Plus range of variance. Delta Plus is a headache to capture, and make sure you send the samples to CARPHA quickly enough that we can detect the Delta Plus,” insisted St John.

Dr Best agreed a main factor for the decision to change the travel protocol for vaccinated visitors was due to the use of resources that could be otherwise used in the battle against community spread.

However, he noted, “There will come a time when we don’t have community transmission anymore and at that particular point in time we are going to have to relook what it is we are doing at our points of entry.”

“The situation is very dynamic and as the situation changes we like to respond as practically best as possible,” said Dr Best.

In relation to the surveillance of new strains, he said “That is something we are paying close attention to. We are looking to bolster the capacity in-house, but in the interim we have the CARPHA labs in Trinidad where we send samples because this is something that is very important.”

But the acting CMO dismissed any call for tighter measures in Barbados to stop the spread of the virus, saying “the one thing we have known from the beginning is that you can only apply public health and social measures that the society can tolerate”.

“So yes, we can apply stricter restrictions specifically for COVID, being very myopic, but there is going to be other fallout that is going to impact us once again if you are looking at the entire health system. There is economic fallout and COVID fatigue throughout the society, it is a balancing act.

“It is not a straightforward situation of ‘let us just apply more protocols to get this particular outcome’. Getting that particular outcome comes at a greater cost and in some cases, you don’t even know if applying the protocol is going to lead to the desired impact,” he explained.

Dr Best said authorities were trying to be as strategic as possible and every day were looking at various strategies, to strengthen the resources already in place and be innovative.

“What we know is that personal behaviours are driving this epidemic in Barbados and driving the pandemic globally. So if more people adhere to the public health and social measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, if more people got vaccinated, we can get to the end of this, the impact of COVID would be lower,” said Best.
marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb

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