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70 deaths from COVID-19 in 2022 – Ministry of Health says current variants pose no increased risk

Posted: Monday, January 9, 2023. 3:16 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The recently identified new subvariants of COVID-19 Omicron BA.5 lineage are not expected, at this time, to pose a greater risk in terms of health according to the Ministry of Health and Wellness – but are more greatly transmissible than their parent variant.

Meanwhile, in 2022, 70 persons died of COVID-19, but most of those occurred in January and February at the height of the transition from the Delta to the Omicron wave – 26 in January and 29 in February. Since March to date, there have been just 15 deaths countrywide. The total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic stands at 688.

“The Omicron variant BA.5 and its descendant lineages remain predominant globally for the end of 2022 and 2023…it has been denoted that four new subvariants have been rapidly increasing [in] a number of cases. So far, we know, to date, that there is no epidemiological evidence that these sub-lineages, particularly XBB and BQ.1, will be of any greater risk compared to other Omicron sub-lineages,” detailed Director of Public Health and Wellness Dr Melissa Diaz-Musa.

But the sub-lineages are likely to infect three times as many individuals as the main Omicron strain – known as the reproductive number, meaning that every infected person with Omicron went on to infect five others, those with subvariants could infect up to 15 persons by contact.

Mainland China, where the COVID-19 virus originated, is dominated in its current surge of cases by two known subvariants of Omicron and has not uncovered any new sub-variants.

As for disallowing travel to the region from Chinese nationals or closing borders once again, Dr Diaz-Musa cites Dr Joy St John, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), as warning against such measures: “Several coronavirus variants that are causing surges in cases in the United States, United Kingdom, and China have been circulating in the Caribbean since last year…We are scientifically unjustified in trying to stop any country from coming to the region because of fear of COVID-19 variants…we are not seeing the level of illness that we saw when Delta was circulating rapidly.”

Dr Diaz-Musa added that Belize’s “rigorous” surveillance system can quickly pick up on any changes in the positivity rate and has kept our fatality rates fairly low.

And Dr Diaz-Musa noted that the current wave, Belize’s sixth, appears to be at or near its peak: “At the end of the day we will get the positivity rate for last week, but over the last two weeks we have seen a slight decline – last Monday the positivity rate was 12.4 [percent], the week before it was 15 or 16 – so we are seeing a decline. And the information we are getting from our health facilities is likewise that the number of persons coming in has lessened and the number of persons testing positive as well, has lessened, so we are seeing a gradual decline at this point. We’ve got to wait to see what today’s numbers show, because we can’t just look at one week – it has to be a consecutive decline for us to say we are recovering from this last wave.”


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