COVID-19 variant found in the U.K. not detected in Canada but could become a 'more common' strain, Dr. Tam says

Elisabetta Bianchini
·3 min read
COVID-19 in Canada
COVID-19 in Canada

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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, confirmed the new COVID-19 variant found in the U.K. has not been identified in Canada, but she did not close the door on the possibility of this strain moving into other countries.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that this variant is in many different countries and it may become one of the more common strains,” Dr. Tam said. “It’s a possibility for sure but having a bit of lead time and getting ourselves setup, we will be able to detect it, should it appear in Canada.”

“We need to know the clinical manifestations of this virus and so far, the U.K. is saying that it’s not leading to increased severity, but that needs to be verified.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada has looked at 25,000 sequences from samples collected. Samples from the Alberta travel testing pilot program, which sees international travellers being tested when they arrive in the province, are undergoing sequencing as well.

This comes as Canada halted incoming flight from the U.K., which began at midnight on Dec. 21.

Dr. Tam stressed that the current public health measures in place will work to protect the public from this variant as well and at this point, it’s “unlikely” that the mutation is going to affect vaccine effectiveness, but that research is still ongoing.

“The whole research community is at work to better understand the potential impacts of this new strain here in Canada and, of course, around the world,” Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health said.

Hajdu stressed that travel generally increases exposures and should be avoided, except for essential reasons.

“Travel is also clearly unpredictable as the world battles COVID-19, and countries continue to make decisions and change policies,” she said. “Pleas don’t plan to travel internationally if it’s not for essential purposes.”

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said enhanced screening has been put in place at points of entry into Canada, including airports. Travellers will be screened to determine if they have been in the U.K. in the past 14 days. If they have, they will be referred to individuals from the Public Health Agency of Canada at both land crossings and airports.

Public health presence is now at 32 points of entry, with 179 public health officers deployed.

“All travellers entering Canada are subject to COVID-19 pre-screening, regardless of their country of origin or their mode of entry,” Blair said.

In terms of people who are exempt from Canada’s 14 day quarantine, Blair said the “vast majority” of people who are exempt are truck drivers who are “doing the essential work of bringing much needed supplies and goods in and out of our country each and everyday.”

He added that COVID-19 cases related to international travel account for only 1.8 per cent of all cases.

Blair maintained that Canada has been “doing the work necessary to keep our communities safe” at the borders.

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