PAHO: No evidence of Delta variant in COVID samples, but Alpha variant confirmed

No evidence of the Delta variant has been detected in COVID-19 samples from The Bahamas, according to Dr. Jairo Méndez Rico, the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO’s) advisor on emerging viral diseases.

“So far, there is no evidence of the Delta variant in circulation in The Bahamas,” Méndez Rico said yesterday during a weekly PAHO press briefing. 

“Nevertheless, the genomic surveillance should be maintained to timely detect the possible introduction and spread of the Delta or any other variant.”

However, it is unclear when the samples sent for testing were collected.

In recent weeks, some health officials in The Bahamas have raised concern that the current surge in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths could be a result of the presence of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, and had been found to be more contagious than other variants of concern and may cause more severe illness. 

Having spread rapidly across the globe in recent weeks, the Delta variant is now the dominant strain in a number of countries, including the US, where most visitors to The Bahamas travel from.

Given the uncertainty of when those samples sent for testing were collected, it remains unclear whether the concern over the possible circulation of the Delta variant in The Bahamas can be ruled out.

Méndez Rico said yesterday that the Alpha variant was detected in the majority of the samples, which were tested at Fiocruz in Brazil.

“According to the most events information, to be officially verified by the country, but already available on global databases, the Alpha variant of concern has been detected in most of the samples,” he said.

The Alpha variant was first detected in the UK last year and has been shown to be significantly more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. The variant was responsible for a large surge in cases and deaths in the UK in late 2020, and prompted the implementation of harsh restrictions.

With no local capacity to identify which variant of concern is circulating, the process to find out such information has been a slow one in The Bahamas.

In April, Dr. Merceline Dahl-Regis, special health advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister, confirmed that COVID-19 variants of concern had been detected in The Bahamas.

National Reference Laboratory Director Dr. Indira Martin said The Bahamas was awaiting “final confirmation” from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) on which strain, in particular, was circulating.

She said 10 samples were sent to CARPHA at the beginning of March. 

Since then, there has been no word from the Bahamian government on whether testing confirmed the presence of a variant. 

In April, there were three COVID-19 variants of concern, globally — the Alpha variant, the Beta variant, which was detected in South Africa, and the Gamma variant, which was first identified in Brazil.  

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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