By Michelle Sutherland
After months of relative calm, which saw the easing up of Covid-19 health measures the Ministry of Health and Wellness is once more on the alert, following the detection of the Omicron BA.2, which is expected to lunge Belize into its 4th Covid-19 wave.
The announcement was made on Thursday by the Ministry which informed the public via a press release that a recent batch of genome-sequencing of positive COVID-19 swabs, which was done by the Central Medical Lab confirmed that the predominant variant circulating in the country is the Omicron BA.2 which is up to 50% more transmissible that its original Omicron linage.
According to Dr. Melissa Diaz Musa, of the Central Health Region, who spoke to the media via Zoom on Thursday, approximately 93% of those samples tested positive for the BA.2 variant while the remainder were the BA.1 Variant. Like the previous waves, Diaz said that the Belize District is currently experiencing the highest rate of infections, followed by the Cayo District.
This prompted health officials to focus their attention on these areas. This includes reopening testing sites, dispatching teams into the various areas, and going out to the various businesses to conduct swabbing in an effort to detect and isolate positive cases as soon as possible.
The Ministry further noted that the consecutive increase in daily positivity rate, which was 7.05 % on Monday, 10.1% on Tuesday, and 8.33% on Wednesday, had already alerted them that something was amiss. The Ministry said that the detection by the Central Medical Lab now officially confirms that ''Belize is currently experiencing another wave of COVID-19,'' and they are once more calling on the public to work together as a community to control this latest outbreak.
According to Dr. Diaz's breakdown, that shift in the infection was first noted around May 6th, and around May 11th when it continued to increase, health officials had already suspected that a new variant was circulating. Diaz noted that because the BA.2 is a subvariant of the Omicron (BA.1), apart from being more transmissible there are minimal changes in symptoms, which still focuses on the upper respiratory tract. She said that persons are going into the health facilities complaining of sore throat, headache, fever, congestion, joint pains, and fatigue. A smaller percentage is complaining of pneumonia that requires hospitalization.
Diaz reiterated that while the situation remains fluid, at this point the Ministry will not be considering making any recommendations to the Government for the reinstatement of the health measures. “At this point, I think we will continue to reiterate personal responsibility, for ourselves and our families. We are asking persons to use their masks indoors and in public and to avoid crowds.” The Ministry, however, according to Diaz will continue to do monitoring and meetings and only when various factors such as the positivity rate and hospitalization rate reach a certain point then the Ministry will consider making those recommendations if needed.
While they are not being legally restricted from holding events, Promoters are also being asked to consider the well-being of the public, and host their events in open spaces, with a limited amount of attendees, so that social distancing is possible.
The MoHW has now moved to increase its surveillance measures in businesses and other public places in order to identify and isolate positive cases early. They are asking that persons who have been in close contact with a positive case or persons who have any flu-like symptoms visit a health facility or testing site for swabbing.
Furthermore, they are also encouraging the public to once more follow the public health measures that were in place prior such as social distancing, avoiding large crowds, sanitizing and washing hands often, and wearing face masks when outdoors. Something which they say has proven to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the past. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are also being recommended.