Toronto health officials have said that an outbreak at a local meat production facility is believed to be linked to the U.K. B.1.1.7. variant of COVID-19.
In a news release issued Monday, Toronto Public Health said that 78 cases of COVID-19 were identified amid an outbreak at Belmont Meats in North York. Of those infections, two were positive for the B.1.1.7. variant.
“There is also evidence of secondary transmission of the variant in household member cases associated with an employee of the workplace,” officials said in the release. “At this time, there is no indication that any cases identified in the outbreak had recently travelled or had contact with a person who travelled recently.”
Officials said that Toronto Public Health began an investigation on Jan. 26 after being notified of a possible outbreak and that Belmont Meats voluntarily closed on Jan. 28.
Letters have been sent to all cases and potential contacts informing them that the U.K. variant has been identified as a result of the outbreak investigation.
The U.K. variant is believed to be more easily transmissible than the original strain and health officials project that it will be the dominant source of infection in Ontario by March.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen De Villa said the situation at Belmont Meats represents the first workplace outbreak associated with the B.1.1.7. variant in the city.
De Villa also emphasized that while the known COVID-19 variants may make some people sicker and may be able to “re-infect people who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered,” regular public health measures should have the same effect.
“COVID-19 variants have been with us throughout the pandemic. This is not to minimize the concerns about the three variants that have been talked about so much recently,” she said.
“While variants in viruses do emerge regularly with respect to COVID-19, modeling and declining case rates in other parts of the world suggests strategies that creating (create?) distance and limit interaction are still successful.”
Ontario health officials said on Monday there is a total of 69 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in the province and that 15 were found in Toronto.
On Monday a spokesperson for York Region also confirmed a total of 39 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, including three cases involving children between the ages of five and nine.