Presence of Omicron will determine changes to COVID-19 guidelines – Health Minister

Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony on Thursday clarified that the current COVID-19 guidelines which govern operations in Guyana would not be changed, unless the new Omicron variant is detected among the population.

Health Minister
Dr Frank Anthony

Speaking during the daily briefing, the Health Minister indicated that the US Center for Disease Control and other countries are changing guidelines based on the prevailing conditions within their respective jurisdictions. The CDC has said that persons are to isolate for five days. If this time has elapsed and they are asymptomatic, they can come out of isolation, but must follow the mask-wearing and other guidelines.
It has been pointed out that the Delta variant is still in circulation in Guyana, and these guidelines would not be applicable.
“The variant that we have circulating is till the Delta variant, and therefore we have to be mindful at this point in time. Those guidelines might not be applicable to us. If and when we do get the Omicron variant, we’ll probably have to review within that context. As of now, I don’t think we will change the guidelines, until we can confirm that we’ve had cases of Omicron here,” he informed.
In places where there is a higher risk of being infected, the Minister has advised persons to wear an N95 mask. In a lower-risk setting, a cloth mask can be used. However, it is not as effective.
“The pores in the [cloth] mask are relatively big, and therefore, viral particles can pass through if you’re in close proximity with somebody who is infected,” Dr Anthony has explained.
Speaking on COVICURB, Dr Anthony said the public can expect more patrols by the Joint Services to ensure a ‘less-challenging’ 2022.
“What we don’t want is, after the holidays, that we start seeing an increase, a big spike in cases. If we do have that, then depending on how many cases, it can quickly overwhelm our system. We want to make sure that we manage this properly, and to manage it properly, we need the public’s cooperation. People have to be socially responsible. Don’t go to these parties that are crowded, and abide by the rules,” the Health Minister cautioned.
On November 26, the WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern. It has been named Omicron on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves; for instance: how easily it spreads, or the severity of illness it causes. Data surrounding the new strain points to a higher transmissibility and reinfection. It is said to be 5.2 times more infectious than the Delta variant.
Recently, Dr Anthony assured that upon signs that Omicron is here, provisions are in place to send samples for genomic sequencing. For variants to be detected, samples need to undergo genomic sequencing to examine the strain.
“Given the way it is spreading around the world, we would anticipate at some point that it would get to Guyana. We have mechanisms in place that when we have such suspected cases, we’ll be able to take those samples and send them to a lab that will be able to do the sequencing,” he was quoted as saying.