‘No evidence’ of new strains in country, says minister

By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net

HEALTH Minister Renward Wells said there is “no evidence” any of the new coronavirus strains are present in the country after dozens of positive samples sent abroad earlier this year produced negative results for the COVID-19 mutations.

Speaking to reporters ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Mr Wells revealed officials have finally received the long-awaited tests results of the positive COVID-19 samples sent to Brazil in January.

Of the 55 samples sent, the Health Minister said only some 30 samples were still able to be tested months after they arrived in Brazil, all of which produced negative results for the new strains found in the UK, Brazil, South Africa. Dozens of countries worldwide have since detected the mutations.

Yesterday, Mr Wells said: “To date, we have no evidence of the new strains but again, we will speak to those (during a press conference today), but we would’ve gotten back the results from PAHO lab in Brazil. Of the 55 samples we sent, I think 30 of them (were) still viable to be tested. We tested all 30 and none of those showed that we had a new variant. It’s just the old COVID strain, the initial strain that we have in country.”

However, some might argue the test results might not necessarily reflect an accurate picture on the situation since the samples were sent earlier this year.

Since March, the Bahamas has seen a sustained uptick in positive COVID- 19 cases, with some of the new cases related to travel.

Yesterday, Mr Wells said officials plan to send additional test samples to a reference laboratory in Trinidad for further confirmation, which he says has a quicker turnaround time for test results.

“We are now sending our samples for genomic sequencing to CRS down in Trinidad, the Caribbean lab to do it for us and they have a more of a two-week turnaround time so we would be able to get a better sense as to where there is a variant.

“But you know the vaccines have been proven effective against the variants as well especially Pfizer, Moderna, and the others as well and so again, we have in hand the solution for what ails us and that is the vaccine.”

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, Mr Wells has previously said the government is currently looking at ways to secure the tools needed to do so.