The government of Antigua and Barbuda is challenging the linking of a COVID-19 variant to the island by Public Health England (PHE).
In an update dated March 11th PHE said a new variant designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) was identified on March 4th after two cases were found in individuals who had recently travelled to Antigua.
The British medical agency said the variant traced back to Antigua “does not feature specific deletions that would lead to a designation as a VOC (variant of concern)” - a more serious designation.
However, Antigua and Barbuda's Prime Minister Gaston Browne wants the UK agency to remove the link to his tourism-dependent country which has been extensively reported in the regional and international press.
According to Mr Browne, “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.”
A statement from the Antigua and Barbuda government said officials of its Ministry of Health had been in contact with representatives of PHE “who conceded that they erred in posting on their website any reference to Antigua and Barbuda in relation to persons they believed were infected with a variant of the novel coronavirus.”
The government said it now expects PHE to retract its website posting.
Mr Browne said: “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," he stated, "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.”
Mr Browne said his country 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”.
Recently the island has seen an increase in COVID cases with several deaths. Earlier this month nine doctors at its main Mount St John’s Hospital tested positive for the virus.
Antigua and Barbuda has been under a month-long 6pm to 5am curfew which went into effect on February 14th and was due to be reviewed on March 15th.
The official COVID-19 dashboard on March 13th confirmed 17 new cases from samples taken on Thursday March 11th bringing the total active cases to 343.
To date Antigua and Barbuda has recorded 962 COVID-19 cases with 27 deaths.
The island has vaccinated over 23,000 people.