Antigua and Barbuda could be one of the first Caribbean islands to be affected by the new COVID-19 variant – the Omicron (pronounced oh-my-cron) strain, the Prime Minister says.
PM Gaston Browne says the variant could end up in the Caribbean, since scientists are predicting that it is more transmissible – and also deadly.
The Omicron strain has already been detected in the United Kingdom, which is one of Antigua and Barbuda’s major tourism markets. Hence, Browne expects that if there is significant spread in the UK, it will definitely end up here.
In fact, he expects this country to be among the first in the Caribbean to be impacted by the new variant, since Antigua & Barbuda is experiencing a bumper winter tourist season, Browne says.
Again, residents are critical of Browne’s attitude to the risk the new strain poses to locals. “If the country is wide open for business, of course this variant is going to arrive here – by plane or by ship,” a downtown small-business owner says.
“I can’t help but believe this is why the Prime Minister accepted those field hospitals from America,” he continues. “He is trying to build back the economy, yes. But can the economy withstand the sickness and death the tourists might be bringing?” he asks.
Ironically, a picket to protest the non-opening of the Glanvilles Polyclinic is slated for December 7. The Health Minister has said that a shortage of medical personnel is preventing the facility from being put into service.
The Nugent Avenue satellite hospital, similarly, remains closed and, reportedly, has not even been completed.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister says the Government and Health officials will have to monitor worldwide developments related to the Omicron strain.
The UK discovered its first two cases on Saturday, November 27, and a third case has since been detected.
Reports are that Canada has also detected two cases of the Omicron variant. Canada is the country’s third most-popular source market for tourists.