News Releases

Response to Express on “Virus variants under scrutiny, says expert” by Kay-Marie Fletcher

For Release Upon Receipt - March 17, 2021


The following statement is in response to an article published in the Trinidad Express newspaper on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 entitled, “Virus variants under scrutiny, says expert” by Kay-Marie Fletcher.

Though the news story correctly quotes Professor Carrington, the quotes are mismatched to the questions answered, which leaves misleading impressions surrounding the number of variants of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) under investigation in Trinidad and Tobago. This is of particular concern given the risk of misinformation perpetuating unnecessary fear and anxiety among our population.

During the Ministry of Health's virtual news conference on Monday, March 15, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) St Augustine, Professor Christine Carrington was asked about whether “outside of variants of concern” there was evidence that the virus circulating in Trinidad was of “more than one type”. In her response, Professor Carrington (who had previously stated that it was normal for viruses to evolve over time into many “lineages”) explained that her team had performed genome sequencing on about 300 samples from across the Caribbean, of which 150 were from Trinidad and Tobago. She indicated that two “variants of concern” had been identified in Trinidad—one example of the “UK variant” in a quarantined individual and one example of the “Brazilian variant” in an individual on a ship who did not come to shore.

Regarding the number of lineages (outside of variants of concern) in Trinidad and Tobago, she stated that there were several but she could not recall the exact number. She surmised that it was about 7–9 to date. Professor Carrington added that 48 lineages had been identified from the 300 samples received from across the Caribbean.

Regrettably, the accompanying news story by Kay-Marie Fletcher carried in Tuesday, March 16’s edition of the Trinidad Express erroneously stated that 48 “new variants” were “under investigation” and that there were “dozens of variants to worry about” without qualifying that Professor Carrington had expressed no concern about the existence of 48 lineages and that she had specified that while the 48 lineages have mutations that differentiate them from the original virus, for the vast majority “those mutations have no major impact on the virus’ properties”.

Though the news story correctly quotes Professor Carrington as saying that “there are a number of other variants that are under investigation or they are of interest because they carry some of the mutations seen in the variants of concern,” this is immediately followed by the quote “there are many. The number in Trinidad is probably seven or nine…”. The juxtaposition of these statements, (the first made in her formal statement while explaining “variants of concern” and “variant under investigation” and the second during the subsequent Q&A session in response to a direct question about Trinidad) gives the misleading impression that there are many variants under investigation in Trinidad.

The article also quotes Professor Carrington as referring to “Geno-sequencing” and a lineage called B12341, these should be “genome sequencing” and “B.1.324.1”

Finally, the article ends by reporting a comment made by Professor Carrington about a specific variant as if it is a response to the question “should the public be alert for new variants,” which was never posed to her.

Professor Carrington formally asks that the record be clarified to expressly acknowledge that:


(i)                 it is normal and expected for viruses to evolve and give rise to multiple lineages, which are descendants of the original virus that have mutations (small genetic changes) that distinguish them from the original virus and from each other;

(ii)               the vast majority of mutations have little or no effect on a virus’ ability to cause infection or disease so the lineages that contain them behave very similarly. However, occasionally mutations arise that affect a virus’ properties (e.g. how easily it spreads, the severity of the disease it causes, how well vaccines work against it etc.);

(iii)             lineages of the SARS-CoV-2 that have been shown to either spread more quickly or to cause more severe disease, or against which vaccines work less well are referred to as “variants of concern”;

(iv)             to date only two SARS-CoV-2 “variants of concern” have been detected in diagnostic samples from Trinidad and Tobago. These are B.1.1.7 (UK variant) and P.1 (Brazilian variant); 

(v)               neither of these “variants of concern” has been associated with community spread in Trinidad and Tobago;

(vi)             none of the other lineages detected to date in Trinidad and Tobago carry mutations found in the “variants of concern” and none are “under investigation”.

(vii)           A team of researchers from The UWI St Augustine, led by Professor Carrington is conducting genome sequencing which analyses all the coronavirus genetic material from infected individuals.  The exercise will enhance Trinidad and Tobago’s capacity to identify different lineages of the virus (including any variants of concern) and to monitor mutations in order to track the virus’ spread, distinguish between local and newly imported cases, and to better understand the virus and our immune system’s response to it. Read more.




About The UWI

The UWI has been and continues to be a pivotal force in every aspect of Caribbean development; residing at the centre of all efforts to improve the well-being of people across the region.

From a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948, The UWI is today an internationally respected, global university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and its Open Campus, and 10 global centres in partnership with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Culture, Creative and Performing Arts, Food and Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities and Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science and Technology, Social Sciences, and Sport. As the Caribbean’s leading university, it possesses the largest pool of Caribbean intellect and expertise committed to confronting the critical issues of our region and wider world.

Ranked among the top universities in the world, by the most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education, The UWI is the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists. In 2020, it earned ‘Triple 1st’ rankings—topping the Caribbean; and in the top in the tables for Latin America and the Caribbean, and global Golden Age universities (between 50 and 80 years old).  The UWI is also featured among the top universities on THE’s Impact Rankings for its response to the world’s biggest concerns, outlined in the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Good Health and Wellbeing; Gender Equality and Climate Action.


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(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)