First Omicron coronavirus variant detected
The first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Bermuda has been confirmed, it was revealed yesterday.
Health officials said much remained unknown about the new strain but that the symptoms appeared to be mild, with effects such as fatigue instead of the more common symptoms such as loss of taste or smell.
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said the active case came in from overseas and all close contacts were in quarantine.
The case was identified last Sunday from an arrival test.
Test results on close contacts have all come back clear for the coronavirus so far.
Ms Wilson said the case was among 31 active cases and that genome sequencing was being carried out on all of them.
She added: “The Omicron variant was identified quickly and, in our view, there is no need to panic.
“Successful public health measures such as SafeKey supplement our testing and surveillance policies and together are effective in reducing transmission of the virus.”
Ms Wilson said that none of the 31 active cases were in hospital. Twenty-six came in from overseas, three are under investigation and two have been classed as on-island transmissions.
The Delta variant of the virus was responsible for the remaining cases.
Ms Wilson said 71.9 per cent of the population had received one vaccine jab, 70.3 per cent had received two and 24.1 per cent had been given the booster.
Among residents over age 65, 86.8 per cent have had at least one vaccination, and 85.2 per cent are fully immunised.
Residents have been given a total of 107,427 vaccinations between January 11 and December 4.
Ms Wilson said the island’s strong border controls were the best defence against further outbreaks.
The island’s latest 6,109 tests for the virus revealed nine new cases – two from last Wednesday, three from Thursday and four from Saturday.
Eight of the new cases came in from overseas and 96 per cent were in fully vaccinated people.
Sixty per cent of cases logged as on-island transmissions or under investigation were in unvaccinated people.
Ayo Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, said Omicron had been classified as a variant of concern and early evidence was that it was more transmissible than the Delta strain.
He added: “At this stage most of the cases that have been seen so far have had mild symptoms and there has not yet been any deaths recorded from this as of yesterday.
“It is very early days though as much of the information we have is from South Africa, where Delta has not been the dominant strain.”
He said it was too early to say if the new strain presented a higher risk to seniors or young people.
Dr Oyinloye added: “The short answer is, we don’t know yet.”
He said the most important step people could take to protect themselves was to get vaccinated.
He also warned people to stay home if they were ill to avoid the spread of the coronavirus to co-workers and others.
Carika Weldon, the head of the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, said whole genome sequencing was available on the island from last weekend.
She added: “This meant that upon the variant PCR result at 6pm on Sunday indicating that the case was highly likely to be Omicron, MDL was able to start genome sequencing within the hour.”
Dr Weldon said that, with the new tests, MDL could confirm Omicron cases within an hour.
Testing will also continue over the holidays.
Ms Wilson said Covid-19 regulations were always under discussion, but it was too early to say if policies would change before the holidays as students returned to the island and families gathered together.
Travel restrictions were not mentioned – although she reminded the public that unvaccinated people who returned to the island were required to quarantine for 14 days.
She added that travellers would keep the option of submitting antigen pre-arrival tests instead of the PCR test.
Ms Wilson said: “We are encouraging people to continue with the public health measures but we have to play a wait-and-see game.
“Our hope is that people will adhere to those public health measures and recognise that things like big bubbles can exacerbate potential spread.”
Ms Wilson added 24 files had been prepared in connection with Covid-19 breaches and prosecutions for some had already started.