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Cayman Conversation 11 May, 2023 Follow News


By Staff Writer

Although the World Health Organization has ended the global emergency status for COVID-19, Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer(CMO) Dr Nick Gent urges residents of Cayman to remain vigilant and not let their guards down.

The pandemic may have embed but the virus is still very much in circulation and could be problematic for some people.

In an interview on Cayman Conversations with Ralph Lewis, Dr Gent, who recently took up his posting in Cayman, urged the public to remain vigilant: “This is still a very dangerous virus and we’ve got to just set that in the context that the fit, well and the healthy are lesser risk, but the elderly people are very, very high risk still.”

Globally, testing for the virus has dwindled considerably, and mask-wearing and hand sanitising heavily promoted as a first line of personal defence during the pandemic, have been dramatically reduced.

However, Dr Gent advises the public to continue to take the necessary precautions against all respiratory infections which could include the risk of contracting variants of the COVID-19 virus which are still in circulation and continue to mutate.

“We are in a period where I think people should as always take all respiratory infections seriously. If you think it’s the flu you shouldn’t be going into the workplace if you’re ill…All of us should learn the lesson that we’ve learned from COVID that really good respiratory hygiene and hand hygiene don’t only just suppress COVID, but they suppress foodborne diseases, they suppress influenza, they’re good. COVID has given us a big scare to remember good hygiene.”

The WHO and global disease concur that COVID will continue to challenge health systems worldwide long term, including the incidence of post-pandemic long-COVID.

“No one should take (this) to mean COVID-19 is no longer a problem…It is still a significant public health problem and looks likely to remain one for the foreseeable future.”

CMO Gent has also been at the forefront of the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic which killed close to seven million people worldwide.

WHO-verified statistics as of April this year show that Cayman had recorded 37 deaths from 31,472 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

“The variants that we’re seeing seem to have stabilised and we’re just only really seeing overcome variants. A few little shifts in the genome but nothing major that’s causing the current Omicron variants to be any more severe in their illness or more transmissible. And we’re still seeing virus that is that to which vaccine is providing good protection from severe disease,” the Cayman CMO pointed out.

Dr Gent who was a member of the UK’s Vannce’s Experts Panel on COVID-19, also elaborated on the issue of COVID vaccines, which had become a controversial topic here in Cayman and elsewhere during the pandemic.

He said the case for vaccines [roytecting against severe disease is “quite overwhelming”.

“Whilst the very progressive mutations and variants have been able to skirt a little bit around vaccines in terms of their ability to still create chains of infection. The vaccine’s ability to protect from severe illness and particularly to protect against dying from this infection is impressive. We’ve rarely had vaccines of such potency in that respect. But people will have their own views. I can only say I got a huge amount of experience both in the laboratory side of the vaccines and the epidemiology side of the vaccines.”

Vaccine requirement remains in place as part of Cayman’s immigration policy for work permits and CMO Gent says he is in the process of reviewing it with a view to advising the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) if it should be maintained or discarded.

“It is an issue that I have promised Cabinet and Caucus that I will review at regular intervals. I will take a long hard look at the epidemiology of infections around the world and I will be taking the view on whether or not I think it is safe to remove that requirement or not. I will take it very seriously and my stance will be to look at in terms of the protection of the Caymanian population.”

Except for work permit applications, according to current CIG policy, “There are currently no COVID-19 travel restrictions in place for the Cayman Islands. All travellers - vaccinated and unvaccinated - are permitted to enter the Cayman Islands, via air or sea, without the need for any additional documents or health-related steps due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, global health experts are keeping a close watch on the newest strain of the COVID virus known as Arcturus.

Researchers say it could be one 1.2 times more infectious than the last major sub-variant.

This new strain, a subvariant of the COVID Omicron virus was first identified in January and upgraded to a “variant of interest” in mid-April by the WHO.

It is said to be spreading rapidly, but the WHO considers it to be no more dangerous than the other variations of the novel coronavirus now in circulation.

To date, there have been no official reports of the COVID Arcturus strain in Cayman.

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