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Video: Govt Confirm Case Of Omicron Variant

[Updated] The Government will be holding a press conference this afternoon [Dec 7] to update the public on Covid-19 and the live video above should start at around 4.00pm.

The Government previously advised that Covid-19 test results would be released on Mondays and Thursdays. The latest results were not released this Monday, and we enquired this morning about the results as as well as seeking information/statement on the omicron variant, and we were told there would be a 4.00pm press briefing.

Update: The Government said the press briefing will be with Minister of Health Kim Wilson, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ayo Oyinloye and Dr. Carika Weldon.

Update 4.08pm: We are waiting on it to begin

Update 4.15pm: Super brief summary of information so far: One imported case is the omicron variant | Currently 31 total active cases | No one is in hospital | 24.1% of the population have had the booster.

Update 7.02pm: Minister Kim Wilson’s full statement follows below:

Good afternoon.

I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ayoola Oyinloye, and Dr Carika Weldon, Director of the Bermuda Molecular Diagnostics & Research Laboratory.

Bermuda currently has 31 active cases, all of which are persons under public health monitoring, with no-one in the hospital.
Of the active cases:

  • 26 are imported
  • 2 are classified as local transmission, and,
  • 3 are under investigation

We have undertaken genome sequencing on the active cases, and while most of them are of the Delta variant, one case is the Omicron variant.

The sequencing was done by MDL lab, and it indicates the presence of Omicron in one imported case identified over the weekend.

As this is the first time a local laboratory has completed genomic sequencing for the Omicron variant, this sample will be also be sent for sequencing overseas as part of our quality assurance process.

This is the same quality assurance process highlighted last week which involved 33 samples being sent overseas. Unfortunately, we do not yet have the results of that analysis from the US lab but expect to have those results this week.

It is important to remember that we have very strong surveillance in Bermuda, so the contact tracing for this active case is completed, and the close contacts are in quarantine. We only have the one case at this time.

The Government has proceeded slowly in relaxing our border protocols, so, unlike other countries which are hurrying to re-impose testing and quarantine requirements, our existing, sound testing and surveillance

policies are working to our advantage. The Omicron variant was identified quickly and, in our view, there is no need to panic.

Successful public health measures such as SafeKey supplement our testing and surveillance policies and, together, are effective in reducing transmission of the virus which causes Covid-19.

As a reminder, however, those people returning to the island who are not vaccinated must quarantine for 14 days. If you cannot quarantine alone, then the entire household must quarantine with you. If the household cannot or will not quarantine with the traveler, then the traveler must do the 14 days of quarantine in a hotel, guest house or Airbnb at his or her own expense.

Our current case numbers are encouraging, and our CDC Travel Health Notice level is at Level 3. The WHO and PAHO no longer track country transmission levels, but Bermuda’s indicators would place us at ‘clusters of cases’.

With respect to vaccines…

To date, 71.9% of the population has been vaccinated [1 dose], and 70.3% of the population has been immunized [2 doses].

Additionally, 24.1% of the population have received a booster.

I have said many, many times, vaccination remains the best protection against the virus, and in Bermuda, it is easy to get vaccinated.

Covid-19 vaccinations are available at the Hamilton Health Centre, 67 Victoria Street, every Tuesday from 2 – 4 pm. These vaccinations are by appointment only, no walk-ins. You can get your 1st, 2nd or 3rd dose. Call 332-8906 for assistance in scheduling an appointment, or you can book online at www.gov.bm/vaccines.

Additionally, until December 22nd, 1st and 2nd appointments can be made at the KEMH Vaccination Clinic on Tuesday and Thursday, 4 to 7 pm, and Saturday, 8 am to 4 pm, and walk-ins are accepted. You can book online at www.gov.bm/vaccines or call the Vaccination Hotline at 444 2498 [option
#2] for assistance.

For those eligible for the booster vaccine, please book an appointment on gov.bm by selecting “Book a Booster Vaccine Appointment.” Alternatively, call the Vaccination Hotline at 444 2498 [option #2] or email vaccine@gov.bm. Those persons 65 and older can walk into Pier 6 for a booster, and throughout November and December, KEMH booster clinics will be held on Wednesday 8 am – 8 pm, and Sunday 8 am-8 pm. The last clinic is on 23rd December.

Please note, we are coming to the end of the “mass” phase of the vaccination campaign.

I encourage everyone who is eligible for a first, second or booster jab to get it before Christmas. The last clinic at KEMH will be held on 22 December and at Pier 6 and the Hamilton Health Centre on 23 December. In the New Year, vaccinations and boosters will transition to other outlets on an appointment basis only. The details of this transition are being worked on now but I would like to take this opportunity to thank the physicians and pharmacists who have stepped forward to express an interest in delivering the vaccines. We look forward to working with you.

Overall, I can say things are improving; however, to help reduce the further spread of the virus, I encourage everyone to be cautious and avoid the three “Cs”: closed spaces, crowded places and close contact settings. This is especially important as we come up to the festive season.

Each of us has a role to play in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Follow Public Health guidelines, continue to wear a mask indoors and outdoors if you cannot physical distance, practice good hand hygiene, maintain physical distance and download the WeHealth Bermuda app.

Thank you.

Update 7.04pm: Dr Carika Weldon’s full statement follows below:

Good Afternoon Bermuda,

I am pleased to share with you an update of Bermuda’s current ability to detect new coronavirus variants.

To recap, as of March 2021 Bermuda can identify certain strains using a 1 hr PCR test. Currently, MDL has 7 different tests that targets 9 different possible mutations within the S gene of the virus. The limitation is that these tests only look at 9 positions and not the entire genetic sequence.

As certain mutations are shared between multiple Variants of Concern the confirmation of a certain mutation doesn’t automatically confirm the variant. In addition, it has

been shown that some Alpha and Delta lineages share many of the mutations with Omicron.

Luckily there are some unique mutations found in Omicron and our current variant tests can identify 3 of them. Nevertheless to dispel any doubt viral whole genome sequencing is needed to get the full confirmation.

I am pleased to inform that as of this weekend Bermuda can conduct viral whole genome sequencing on-island using nanopore sequencing technology. This meant that upon the variant PCR results at 6pm on Sunday indicating that the case is highly likely to be Omicron, MDL was able to start genome sequencing within the hour. The sample was prepped for sequencing within 6 hours and ran over night with data sent for analysis in New York first thing Monday morning. Now that sequencing has confirmed this first case, as well as knowing what the corresponding results for Omicron look like on our variant tests, we can now confirm an Omicron case within an hour.

The ability for MDL to now do nanopore sequencing of this case was made possible through the collaboration

between MDL and Weill Cornell Medicine Center. More specifically, this is due to our partnership with the lab of Dr Chris Mason, Associate Professor and a fellow RNA scientist. Prior to this weekend we were missing some of the pieces to the puzzle for nanopore sequencing, and Dr Mason graciously sent a member of his team to Bermuda which allowed us to officially begin on-island sequencing. I am particularly excited about this development as prior to joining Bermuda’s Covid- 19 Pandemic Response Team, I was performing nanopore Sequencing at Oxford University.

Going forward we are looking to establish a long-term collaboration with Cornell University and the New York Genome Center, who can sequence thousands of samples at a time as opposed to the 20 samples per month that we can currently send to CARPHA. With the support from the Mason Lab, MDL will be equipped to sequence on-island any of the unordinary cases that may be detected from our variant tests within a matter of hours.

This is a great opportunity for young Bermudians on all fronts as during this past weekend the lab staff at MDL were able to

shadow myself and the lab scientist from the Mason Lab as we performed the sequencing and a young Bermudian Computer Engineering graduate will be trained by the Mason lab Bioinformatician how to conduct the analysis this week.

In closing, Bermuda now officially has the capacity to do on island nanopore sequencing which adds yet another tool in our toolbox in this fight against the coronavirus.

Thank you.