BELIZE CITY, Wed. June 30, 2021– Today, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Michel Chebat, confirmed that a new strain of the Covid-19 virus was identified in Belize. According to reports, healthcare personnel believe it is the Delta variant, which is said to be more contagious and deadly, and which first became known globally after persons infected with the virus in India began to exhibit unusual and disturbing symptoms not typically associated with COVID-19. Belize has now solicited assistance from Baylor College to pinpoint exactly what variant is currently circulating within the country.
Reports are that Belize has acquired equipment used to identify COVID-19 variants during testing, but the country still needs to have additional gene sequencing done overseas to identify the specific variant. As we previously reported in this newspaper, the Delta variant is currently the most contagious of the SARS-CoV2 virus strains and has brought countries like India and Brazil to their knees.
In the region, the Caribbean Public Health Agency is currently reporting that there is community spread of the virus in 54% of the member states of CARICOM, adding that all three COVID-19 variants of concern have been reportedly identified among the 26 member states.
During an event marking the relaunch of Belize’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Michel Chebat, remarked, “In terms of where the variants were detected, the local experts believe that it could be the Delta strain, but it is only a belief. As I said before, the swabs have been sent to Baylor College, and once they are able to confirm, then we will be able to come back to the Belizean public and confirm the variant that has been detected. It has been detected in several parts of the country. One person was detected from Ladyville; we have detected it in the south in the Stann Creek District and also in the Orange Walk District.”
Hon. Chebat also said that contract tracing has already begun for these cases.
Currently, the Covid-19 Delta variant is wreaking havoc in many countries across the world. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that countries in the southern part of the globe are seeing a rise in cases that may be attributed to the spread of the Delta variant.
The Delta variant is estimated to be 20-60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant and may cause more severe symptoms. Reports are that persons infected with this variant are two times more likely to be hospitalized, and there are indications that life-saving treatment like monoclonal antibody infusions are less effective in countering the deadly effects of this variant.
The variant was first identified in Maharashtra, India, in October 2020 and spread to at least 85 countries across 6 regions. Six Caribbean countries are said to have detected this variant, which has caused more than 90% of the new cases in the UK recently and is the dominant strain in India.
The variant is described by experts as a double-spike mutation of the COVID-19 virus, which includes an L452R mutation that is said to increase infectivity, while the P681R mutation is said to increase transmissibility. The Delta variant is also said to have a T478K mutation that leads to the escape of antibodies.