Canada along with provinces and territories remain on the lookout for more transmissible variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, the country’s top doctor said Tuesday.
So far, there have been nine cases detected in Canada of a variant virus first identified in the United Kingdom. There have been no reports of other variants of concern in this country such as the one first reported in South Africa, according to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.
“To date the cases that we know of, that’s been genomically identified, have been in travellers or their contacts,” said Tam. “Provinces are looking at contact tracing but as far as we know we’re not expecting that there’s large numbers of contacts related to these cases, partly because of the result of the fact that we have quarantine measures in place.”
Cases of the U.K. variant have been detected so far in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, but so far not in Manitoba.
To identify variants, Tam said Canada has been doing genomic sequencing of viruses throughout the pandemic at a rate of about five per cent of total cases.
Tam also said the provinces and territories, clinical networks and laboratories are monitoring for the variant in travellers and specific patient groups such as immunocompromised people and people who have received the vaccine.
“There’s always a risk of a virus that can transmit in all sorts of hidden ways to accelerate in different places,” said Tam. “The public health measures and the core public health measures in reducing contacts to reduce spread remains the same.
“However, you’ve really got to double down on your efforts with a more transmissible virus.”
Tam said if a variant starts circulating more widely in Canada stricter measures may have to be put in place.
“As you’ve seen in the U.K., if it does accelerate spread it means that there would be more public health measures that might be needed.”
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday England will be entering a new national lockdown to curb the spread of the more transmissible variant.
In a statement to CTV News Winnipeg, a provincial spokesperson said the Canadian government has a monitoring program in place with the provinces and territories to identify COVID-19 variants in Canada, such as the ones first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
“At this time, while early data suggests the new variant may be more transmissible, there is no evidence the variant causes more severe symptoms of COVID-19 or affects vaccine effectiveness,” a provincial spokesperson said.
The province said it’s too soon to say what impact the detection of the variant in Manitoba would have on places such as schools.