There have yet been no confirmed cases of the new strains of the Covid-19 virus in Trinidad and Tobago, but that does not mean they are not already circulating.
Scientists have confirmed two new strains of the virus, one which is said to have originated in the United Kingdom and the other originating out of South Africa.
The UK variant has been found in about 50 countries, and as of yesterday, the South African variant had been confirmed to have spread to ten countries.
Questioned on efforts to detect the strains in T&T yesterday, at the virtual news conference held by the Ministry of Health, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds said screening and monitoring are ongoing.
He said the current PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests used to detect Covid-19 are capable of detecting any strain of the virus.
“The PCR testing that we do have is able to detect Covid-19, and whether it’s the old or the new strain, the PCR testing is still able to do that detection because it is identifying parts of the DNA that are still identifiable using the primers and the materials that already exist,” he said. “So that has not impaired the ability of the test to detect the virus, even if it is the new strain.”
Hinds said a The University of the West Indies research team has been monitoring and testing samples for the new strains, but had up to yesterday not discovered any cases of either the UK variant or the South African variant in T&T.
“We are doing our utmost to prevent the introduction of the new strain of virus that can present asymptomatically,” he said.
Repatriated people tested for new strains
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh explained that not all samples are tested for the new strains, and samples from repatriated nationals are being tested for the new strains at this time.
“What we do under the direction of Carpha is pick a certain number of samples, not from the general population resident in Trinidad and Tobago but samples with a certain viral load, with a certain threshold of repatriated persons who have tested positive.
“So in order to zero in on whether the South African variant or the UK variant is here, you don’t test your resident population. You take samples of your repatriated individuals that have a certain threshold of viral load. Those samples are sent to Carpha, that is the collection point for Caricom, and then sent to UWI. It was via that process that UWI St Augustine, working in tandem with Carpha, was able to identify a couple of weeks ago that Jamaica did in fact have the strains.”
Deyalsingh however said the negative results so far do not mean the new strains are not in T&T.
“It is quite possible that it is here...it is quite possible. But it is a further screen to alert us as to whether these new variants have in fact been picked up from our repatriated individuals.”