Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh,

Although there is no official confirmation of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in T&T, health officials have said this does not mean it is not already here, just that it has not been detected as yet.

Speaking during the Ministry of Health’s virtual media briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Senior Paediatric Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr Joanne Paul agreed that vaccination remains the best layer of protection available to the public.

Deyalsingh said just like with the other variants, detection and confirmation must be done.

However, he said, “It doesn’t mean that the Omicron variant isn’t in T&T or anywhere else, it just means we haven’t detected it as yet.”

Asked whether Government planned to increase local travel bans to people coming from countries where Omicron has been confirmed, he said the situation will be updated as the matter evolves.

As of midnight on November 26, T&T had imposed travel restrictions on Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Saying a lot is not yet scientifically known about Omicron, both Deyalsingh and Paul said it seemed to be more transmissible.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa on November 9. Since then, at least two dozen countries have confirmed the presence of the latest strain, whose symptoms include a dry cough, scratchy throat and mild muscle aches.

Paul said, “The worry is that it may not be picked up by our immune system and it might partially be responsive to vaccines.”

However, she said local experts had been liaising with South African officials who confirmed they had been seeing mild infections occurring.

She said, “We may turn the corner from this or may not. I think what we have to see though is the response to the different populations, so it might be milder so far with those small amounts in South Africa, but we have to see how it responds to the European population, the US and also the Caribbean population.”

She added, “We have to watch and wait… it’s definitely more transmissible. It’s going to be the dominant variant once it comes; it will take over Delta, for sure.”

She urged the population to get vaccinated, lock their doors, pick up a sword and shield and get everything ready so they would be ready for the fight ahead.

Deyalsingh meanwhile assured that the University of the West Indies has the capacity to test for Omicron, whilst the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is also expanding its resources for testing the variant.