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Jul 6, 2021

COVID Variants in Up to 30% of Test Samples

While fears and speculation about the Delta variant continues and the results from Baylor University are not yet in, News Five has learned that unidentified variants have been detected in up to thirty percent of recent samples taken from active COVID-19 cases – samples that for the most part originate from northern Belize. News Five’s Paul Lopez went to the Central Medical Lab today to talk to the technicians about this disturbing new twist in the pandemic.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

The lab detected its first set of variants of concern in samples sent from the Northern Health Region in Orange Walk.


Ruby Aghion

Ruby Aghion, Medical Technologist, Central Medical Laboratory

“The first day when we found the variant of concern it was more than one. We were surprised. Like, everybody was like, “We found that, we have variants of concern here.” But we didn’t know that. We had to inform, and we know that we have to follow up to determine which one.”


The question of “which one?” is challenging because there are up to ten named COVID-19 variants detected to date across the world so far. The Belize Central Lab has the capacity to detect only four of these. When it runs the test for the original covid strain, the laboratory looks for a segment of the virus called the e-gene, using specific primers coded for that e-gene. In detecting a variant of concern, however, the primers used are different.


Ruby Aghion

“The re-agent that we have for the variant of concern will also be specific. So, it will have primers and probes. It is a mixture of primers and probes of the delta, the gamma, the alpha or the theta. It will be looking for that in the sample. It will not be looking for the e-gene because those primers and probes are not present there. It will be looking for delta and those ones.”


Now all positive cases of COVID-19 detected by the laboratory now undergo a second screening to determine if it is a variant of concern. This has doubled the workload at the Central Medical Lab.


Ruby Aghion

“It has been incredibly challenging since we don’t have enough staffing. And, the staff does get tired, and with the increase of samples, we try to process as much as we can. But sometimes it is just difficult.”


Aldo Sosa

The Senior Medical Technologist at the Central Medical Lab, Aldo Sosa, says variants of concern account for up to thirty percent of the current active COVID-19 cases.


Aldo Sosa, Senior Medical Technologist, Central Medical Laboratory

“As was mentioned earlier, in the first test that was done they happened to be from the northern region and a few from south, maybe only one or two if I can remember clearly. However, as we proceed with the testing, we can see that these are popping up throughout the country.”


Paul Lopez

“If it of any concern at this time, the behavior of it, just considering the havoc that we have seen different variant wreak across the world? And, is it of greater concern not knowing what specific variant it is?”


Aldo Sosa

“Definitely, your measures are always directed at the information that you have. So, if you do not have information, you are kind of just going out into the dark.”


Local health authorities are operating on the assumption that the variant of concern in Belize is the Delta Variant, which was first identified in India, and has since been identified in more than eighty-five countries across the world.


Aldo Sosa

“Well from what we have seen from all around us, it is more infectious. The transmissibility is greater. So, when a virus can transmit easier, you are anticipating greater infections. And greater infections in persons who are deficient in some ways in their immunity. And so, in that aspect, it is redundant, a variant of concern that is of concern, causing concern because you do not know how exactly it will behave in our population.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.


Because the Central Medical Lab does not have the capacity to undergo a process called sequencing which identifies the exact make up of a specific variant, help is being sought from Baylor University. Those results are yet to be announced.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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