The Health Services Authority has commenced genome sequencing of local COVID-19 cases making Cayman the first in the region, outside of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, to conduct such testing, Governor Martyn Roper has said.
Roper said this specialised testing puts Cayman into a different league, as no one else in the Caribbean is doing it. The technology will be key to determining the strains of COVID-19 present in positive cases picked up through PCR testing.
“Other territories and countries are sending their samples to CARPHA, the regional body. But we’re able to do this on island. It’s only just come online so we weren’t able quite to say this has been working and it’s been working well. But we got ourselves into the right place,” Roper said when he appeared on the Cayman Compass weekly talk show The Resh Hour on Thursday.
HSA is expected to issue a media statement on the sequencing today.
Roper said the sequencing is a “major step” forward for the jurisdiction, which was communicated with the United Kingdom as government lobbied to be moved from amber to green on the British travel list.
However on Thursday, the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps did not make changes to the green list, leaving Cayman on amber.
This means people travelling from Cayman to the UK must take a COVID-19 test, book and pay for day two and day eight COVID-19 travel tests – to be taken after arrival – and quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days. There remains the option to pay for the ‘test to release’ scheme after five days.
Among the stated criteria for inclusion on the green list are: vaccination rates, infection rates, access to genome sequencing and reliable local scientific data.
Roper said the UK is very concerned about the spread of COVID variants, in particular the Delta variant (India variant) and so, too, is Cayman.
He said genome sequencing identifies the variants of concern and is key in the COVID-19 fight.
“When we test people for being positive or negative using the PCR tests, this is a different type of test which enables you to break down the positive cases and it will tell you whether it’s the Indian or Delta variant. It will tell you whether it’s the Kent UK variant, which is Alpha, and that’s really important because then, in terms of your COVID response, you know which variant you’ve got because some variants are more infectious than others,” the governor said.
He said with genome sequencing local health officials can get a lot more information to be able to deal with COVID.
“Being able to do genome sequencing on island is a major step forward and we are effectively a regional health leader in this area,” he said.
The Delta variant, which originated in India, has also been found in 62 countries and the cases in the UK are rising.
Roper also defended the decision to remove the pre-arrival testing requirement for HSA-vaccinated travellers.
He said part of the regulation change was intended as an incentive to get the vaccine.
“Obviously we were aiming at the people here in Cayman who had the HSA vaccine. So that was one reason, but also we can’t be as certain about vaccination certificates from elsewhere. I mean, clearly obviously, I think we would trust the UK and we would trust the US. It was just an initial first step. But it was aimed at increasing vaccination because it’s something else you don’t have to do if you’re travelling,” Roper said.