Claims of Antigua coronavirus variant in UK inaccurate, says Browne

St John’s – Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Friday that media reports claiming that an Antigua variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been discovered in the United Kingdom by Public Health England (PHE) are inaccurate.

In fact, he said officials of the Ministry of Health here had spoken with representatives of Public Health England (PHE) – an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom – who conceded that they erred in posting on their website any reference to the twin-island nation, in relation to people they believed were infected with a COVID-19 variant.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Antigua and Barbuda government said it now expects PHE to retract the information which was posted on its website on Thursday.

Prime Minister Browne also wrote on Friday to several UK and Caribbean media organisations that carried the story based on the PHE website posting.

In that correspondence, the Prime Minister emphasised that it was since the first week of February that PHE discovered a family of five who had holidayed in Antigua.

“More than 32 days have elapsed since the discovery and the negative results of contact tracing in the UK. Clearly, any variant of concern would have emerged by now,” Browne wrote, further stressing that “daily tests conducted on material from Antigua by reputable external agencies have found no variant arising from Antigua”.

“It is important to emphasise that the virus was discovered by Public Health England (PHE) in early February only in two persons who were on a brief visit to Antigua. Three other family members were designated as ‘probable’.

“Further, PHE is not saying that the variant was contracted in Antigua. Indeed, they do not know if the infected persons might have contracted the virus in England before travelling to Antigua,” Browne explained.

He added that even on its own website, PHE has been clear that “contact tracing teams have completed thorough investigations to identify and follow up any close contacts and no additional cases have been found to date”.

Additionally, PHE also states that the “variant identified in the UK has been designated a Variant Under Investigation” and not as a “Variant of Concern”.

Browne assured the media that Antigua and Barbuda maintains strict COVID-19 protocols and “remains one of the safest places globally with comparatively low rates of infection and a high rate of recovery”. (CMC)

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