Local health officials are tracking the emergence of the COVID-19 variant Omicron that the World Health Organisation (WHO) said was confirmed in 23 countries on Wednesday.
However, the Government has not so far followed the lead of other countries that announced travel restrictions on persons from the affected nations.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health and Wellness urged Barbadians to be as “cautious and careful as possible” and sought to assure that it would do its part to keep residents safe.
“Given the available information from reputable public health agencies and being aware of ongoing research worldwide, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue to review its COVID-19 protocols and update where necessary, as it seeks to keep the population as safe as possible,” it said.
Omicron, declared a variant of concern by the WHO last Friday, has more than 30 mutations, some of which are associated with higher transmission and a decrease in antibody protection.
The Ministry of Health noted: “The variant Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves; for example, on how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or the effectiveness of prior infection. Internationally, there are several studies underway to understand the significance of this new variant.”
While noting that preliminary evidence from the WHO suggests that people who have previously had COVID-19 could possibly become reinfected more easily with Omicron, the Ministry underscored that “all variants of COVID-19 can lead to severe disease or death, particularly for persons who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly, and those with serious health problems, including heart or lung disease, diabetes, obesity or weakened immune system”.
“Preventative behaviour is, therefore, always recommended. Individuals are urged to continue to be as cautious and careful as possible, using the preventative measures such as physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and sanitising, and the correct wearing of masks. Consideration of the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 is also strongly recommended,” it added.