Flashback February 2020: An Immigration Officer tests the scanning device at the Piarco International Airport.

Rishard [email protected]

The established quarantine protocols for people coming into T&T will be sufficient to protect the country from importing an emerging COVID-19 variant in France which appears to be difficult to detect with PCR tests- the sole test in use locally to detect an infection. This is the assurance given by Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram in an interview with Guardian Media on the issue yesterday.

According to reports coming out of France, authorities indicated it was detected in a hospital in the commune of Lannion in the Côtes d’Armor in France’s Brittany department.

It also does not appear to be any more dangerous than other strains. The Brussel Times quoted Belgian virologist and interfederal COVID-19 spokesman Steven Van Gucht as saying it is a small outbreak of eight to 10 people “who showed typical coronavirus symptoms, but the (PCR) tests remained negative.” Considering that T&T requires a person coming into the country to present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival, this means there is a possibility that someone coming from France could be infected with the variant but not test positive because of the variant’s nature- coming into the country with the new strain. Despite this, Parasram said the current quarantine protocols would be able to prevent a person like this from introducing the virus into the local population. “For the UK in particular there’s a 14-day State or State-supervised quarantine period. Usually, people coming through France and those European countries would go through the UK for some duration of time in most instances or the US,” he said. This means those who enter through the UK would be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period while those doing so from the US, which is termed a high-risk country, would be subject to a seven-day state or state-supervised quarantine followed by another seven days quarantine at home. Parasram noted that the Ministry of Health is remaining vigilant to prevent the importation of any variants out of the country as it is awaiting vaccines to inoculate the population. “In so doing, when we get our vaccination programme that at least we know those variants are not here at that time and we can try to get our population to herd immunity to prevent any further spread of disease in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. He acknowledged that variants would arise as the pandemic continues. Virology professor at the University of the West Indies Dr Christopher Oura told Guardian Media the occurrence “is not abnormal.” “This is something that we’ve really predicted may well happen as the viruses change. They don’t only change in their spike proteins to make them maybe more transmissible or maybe be able to evade the immune system- they also change in areas in which the PCR test have been targeted against to detect the virus,” Oura said

The University of the West Indies (UWI) is also currently conducting genomic sequencing on test samples taken from people coming into the country to monitor for any variants of concern.

According to the most recent figures given by Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the UWI, Christine Carrington last week, some 150 samples from T&T have been sequenced.

From these, two variants of concern were detected. The first was the UK variant detected in a repatriated national. The second was the Brazil variant.

The Ministry of Health considers both these instances as being successfully contained.