Minister of Health Hon. Jamell Robinson does not see the Turks and Caicos Islands being impacted by COVID-19’s latest variant – Omicron.
There have been some concerns regarding cancellations on the news of the new variant, with some resorts reporting of a few prospective travellers yanking their reservations.
Speaking with NewslineTCI, Minister Robinson stated that while it is early days yet, he does not see the Turks and Caicos Islands greatly impacted by the variant, quickly stating that his government was keeping a close watch on the latest development.
“It is early days yet, but I don’t think that there would be mass cancellations because of Omicron,” Minister Robinson stated.
He said at present there was only a handful of cases being reported in the United States, which is the main market for the Turks and Caicos Islands, hoping that cases would not balloon out of control.
“Our biggest market is the U.S. market and I think there only might be a few cases. And so, although some people might not want to travel, I don’t think it would have a significant impact. Because it is early days, I think we will definitely keep our pulse on whether or not there is anything out of the ordinary in terms of cancellations,” Minister Robinson said.
As a result of the emergence of the Omicron Variant, the Biden administration is tightening travel rules to and within the U.S., requiring all in-bound international passengers to test for Covid within 24 hours of departure through March 18.
The changes were announced Thursday as part of a broader plan to bolster that nation’s arsenal of tools in its fight against the virus as the world enters its third year of the pandemic.
But the TCI Health Minister does not see that restriction having an adverse effect on the Turks and Caicos Islands either, especially if those test requirements are PCR.
“I don’t think it would necessarily have an adverse impact as long as it is a PCR requirement. I think our labs down here can produce the test within a 24-hour window. If anything, I think it would be a step-up. So, I don’t think there will be an issue,” he pointed out.
The plan by the Biden Administration is also the latest move to stem the spread of the new, highly mutated omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was first reported to the WHO by South Africa a week ago.
At least 23 countries have identified omicron cases so far, and that number is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks, the WHO said.
The U.S. joined that list after confirming its first case of the variant in Northern California on Wednesday. A second case was confirmed Thursday in a Minnesota resident who recently returned from a convention in New York City.
“This variant is a cause for concern, but not panic,” President Joe Biden said Thursday afternoon at the National Institutes of Health.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” he continued.
The tightened pre-departure testing protocols will apply to all in-bound international travellers regardless of vaccination status and will begin as early as next week, senior administration officials told reporters during a press call late Wednesday.
Previously, the U.S. required proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure, though this was tightened to only vaccinated travellers last month. Unvaccinated travellers had to have a negative Covid test within one day of departure.
“Our doctors believe tightening testing requirements for pre-departure will help catch more cases, potential cases of people who may be positive and inside the country,” a senior administration official said. “And so now is the right time to do it. And we can implement it very quickly.”
The World Health Organization has identified and tracked more than 20 variants. Yet unlike with others that popped up around the world before they mostly fizzled out (including the lambda variant, which was first documented in December in Peru, or the mu variant, which was detected a month later in Colombia), there were early signs that the omicron variant’s cocktail of mutations made it different and worthy of swift action — even overreaction — experts say.
While it’s too soon to know what the mutations mean for the effectiveness of vaccines or how sick people could become from the variant, the emergence of the omicron strain also highlights the frustrating reality of the Covid pandemic: Variants will continue to pose serious threats until countries around the world have more equal and ready access to vaccines, experts say.
Within hours of the WHO’s designating omicron a “variant of concern” Friday, November 26, dozens of countries imposed new travel bans, places that had loosened restrictions reintroduced mask mandates, and anxieties ran high.
It was the kind of quick and intense development reminiscent of early stages of the pandemic, prompting some concern that governments were overreacting before enough about the omicron variant was known.
South Africa was the first to report clusters of cases involving the omicron variant last week. Days before, data about the newly identified variant had also been uploaded to GISAID, an online database for disease variants, by a research team in Hong Kong, followed by more early sequences from scientists in Botswana.