Epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds has said not all positive covid19 tests can be tested for the presence of the Brazilian variant of the virus, owing to a lack of capacity at UWI, where genetic sequencing is done.
He made the statement as five additional cases of the P1 covid19 variant (Brazilian variant) were detected in Trinidad and Tobago. This brings the total number of cases of the variant to nine.
In a release, the Health Ministry said the variants were detected in three people from St George Central and two from St George West. All five cases are nationals.
The ministry said it is important to note that the cases have no epidemiological link to each other and were identified in varying geographical locations. It said all contact tracing and isolation procedures are in progress and are being managed by the relevant County Medical Officer of Health with the aim of reducing the spread of this "variant of concern."
Speaking at the Health Ministry’s virtual media conference on Monday, Hinds said random samples that comprised a small proportion of positive tests are sent for sequencing. He said there are talks between UWI and Public Health England on acquiring additional capacity.
“With the existing capacity, we can’t test every single positive at this point in time to identify whether a variant of concern is responsible for each positive. Not all positives can be tested.
"But we will have contact tracing for those already identified, as well as the continuation of random testing that is currently being carried out.
"You wouldn’t necessarily test all of the positives, but you would look at getting representative samples – one in ten, one in 20 of the positives – so you get an idea of the distribution across geographic and other lines, so we get an idea of where these cases might be popping up.”
He said so far there is no connection between the cases, and there is no definite way to say the individuals contracted the variant at a particular location or through a particular interaction.
“However, there hasn’t been any difficulty in stating that the variant itself is known to be a South American variant and therefore would have been introduced via that means.
"We don’t know at which point the individuals who would have been identified would have gotten the virus, as there are both nationals and non-nationals listed among those who had the P1 virus.
"As we continue to monitor, get more of the contact tracing and get more information, we will be able to build a clearer picture. Also bearing in mind that when contact tracing, people don’t always share the relevant information, so we can only share what we’re aware of.”
Hinds warned, “While we can’t yet say this is an established set of community spread, what we can say is, in the absence of geographic and epidemiologic links, we continue to monitor – but it is entirely possible that once the variant is introduced into the population it does what variants do, which is establish itself as one of the circulating strains in the country.”
The ministry said the covid19 vaccine is just one part of the overall tool kit that should be used to reduce the spread of the covid19 virus, in general, and the variants of concern. It said all the personal protective measures such as mask-wearing must also be followed, even by people who have already been vaccinated, and public adherence to the public health measures is therefore critical.