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Genome sequencing machine for COVID-19 operational

Published:Tuesday | January 25, 2022 | 4:26 PM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking in Parliament on January 25, 2022 - Kenyon Hemans photo.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has commissioned into use the genome sequencing machine crucial to the detection of new coronavirus variants, some three months after its acquisition. 

Prime Minister Andrew Holness made the announcement in parliament this afternoon, disclosing that 40 of the 43 samples sequenced in December last year returned positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19, officially confirming its presence in Jamaica.

A genome sequencing machine is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type like those of the coronavirus.

Holness conceded that the machine, which was acquired at approximately $40 million through the CHASE Fund, had been on the shelf for too long, noting also that the procurement process was lengthy.

The sequencer was acquired last October but the health ministry had repeatedly reported that it remained at the mercy of manufacturers for the training of personnel for its use.

“We're finally here. We have now built a capacity that will help us to manage the pandemic as we seek to transition out of the pandemic,” the prime minister said. 

Jamaica on Monday recorded 754 new COVID-19 cases with a positivity rate of 46 per cent.

Five hundred and fifty-nine people have been hospitalised, 60 of who are severely ill. 

Holness told the Lower House that the average number of cases for the last seven days was 921 and for the preceding seven days, 1,402. 

This, he said, represents a decline of 34 per cent, though noting that the Omicron variant is the most dominant strain within the population and is currently driving the fourth wave.  

“All the indications were that we were experiencing an Omicron wave and we now have definitive confirmation of this,” he said. 

Holness cautioned that while the data suggests that the variant may result in fewer severe illnesses than the Delta variant, which fuelled the third wave, there is no room for complacency in how it is managed. 

He stressed, at the same time, that unvaccinated Jamaicans remain at high risk, especially the elderly and those immunocompromised and urged vaccination. 

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