This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. (NIAID-RML via AP)

As COVID-19 continues to spread, several new variants of the novel coronavirus have emerged.

There are currently three new strains of the virus that have been identified: B.1.1.7, B.1.351, and P.1.

COVID variant cases in Canada


COVID variant cases by province


The virus has spikes on its surface that helps it attach onto human cells. Scientists say that these new variants of the virus have changes in their spikes, which can cause them to interact with the human body differently than the original virus.

B.1.1.7 first emerged in the U.K. in September 2020. Doctors say that this variant spreads faster than others, and could be transmitted in less time than the original strain.

The B.1.1.7 variant is the most prominent in Canada, with hundreds of cases having been identified. Ontario has seen the most number of cases, where an outbreak involving this variant at a long-term care home has resulted in all residents but one contracting the virus and more than 100 positive cases amongst staff.

The B.1.351 variant was first discovered in South Africa in December 2020. Scientists say that this variant is more efficient than others in targeting healthy cells. So far, Canada has only seen 13 cases of this variant.

P.1 was first identified in December 2020 when this variant caused one of the deadliest outbreaks in Manaus, Brazil. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contracting this variant could affect the ability of antibodies developed from previous infections and vaccinations. As of Feb. 3, Canada has not seen any cases of the P.1 variant.

Public Health Ontario issued in their epidemiologic summaries that variant tracking data may change as they continue to analyze cases:

Caution should be taken when interpreting [variants of concern] data due to the nature of the screening and confirmation process, including delays between specimen collection and whole genome sequencing.

Data corrections or updates can result in case records being removed and/or updated and may result in totals different from past publicly reported case counts.