Coronavirus variant first seen in U.K. found in Manitoba
No evidence of transmission of B117 variant within Manitoba, but infectious disease expert says to be vigilant
A confirmed case of the coronavirus variant first seen in the U.K. has been discovered in Manitoba.
The case is related to international travel and the person has since recovered, but the province's chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says there's no evidence to show there's transmission of the B117 variant within Manitoba.
"This further illustrates why we have our travel restrictions in place to protect the introduction into the community of these type of variants," he said.
Five household contacts are self-isolating, but none of them have tested positive for the virus.
Roussin says the person's original COVID-19 test was sent to the National Microbiology Lab for sequencing and the results came back Monday evening.
WATCH | Roussin speaks about the concerning coronavirus variant that was found in Manitoba:
"Of course, this is not unexpected," Roussin said. "We see this variant in our country and internationally and we have set up our protocols for just this type of scenario."
Roussin says there will be additional rules in place for cases involving concerning coronavirus variants, such as requiring household contacts to isolate for an extended period of time outside the home.
For example, if the person with a confirmed case involving a concerning virus variant isolated at home upon symptom onset or return from travel, any household members would have to isolate outside the home for an additional 14 days after the last potential exposure to the confirmed case.
Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba is not an island.
WATCH | Coronavirus variant first seen in U.K. found in Manitoba:
"Cases of variance of concern have been identified in seven other provinces. Manitoba is the eighth. And so this should be a reason for additional caution and discipline on the part of all of us, not just the public health officials that administer tests, but all of us," he said.
Public health officials anticipate seeing other coronavirus variants of concern in Manitoba, said Roussin.
"We've upped our screening for variants and will continue to up that moving forward. We just need to do whatever we can to delay this introduction of these variants into the community," he said.
The announcement of the virus variant's presence in Manitoba was made while Roussin and Pallister announced the loosening of public health orders. Museums, indoor rinks, restaurants, gyms and places of worship will be able to reopen with limited capacity on Friday.
"Because things are controlled, because of the restrictions we have in place and protocols, we're still OK to proceed with our reopening plans," said Roussin. "But it's also a reminder that we're not out of the woods, that we need to be cautious moving forward."
Virus variant more contagious
That same virus variant is being blamed for an outbreak at a personal care home north of Toronto.
In a news release on Saturday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the testing done on Friday has determined that six samples taken from the Roberta Place Long Term Care Home are of that strain.
The health unit said at the time the development is of great concern.
Virologist Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba says the next few days in the province will be crucial in terms of B117.
He says it's so contagious, if more cases emerge, Manitoba will have to make some hard decisions about reopening.
"We have to get hold of this now. The fact that we only have a single case I think is quite optimistic as compared to some of the other regions we've seen across Canada. But certainly we now have to be extremely vigilant to ensure that this only stays as as a single case," he said.
Manitoba's Liberal leader is worried about reopening the economy at such a time.
"There was a public health critic who said, look, the biggest problem with pandemic response in areas where it's been handled poorly is that they're slow to shut down and too quick to open up. And I think that still is the case today," Dougald Lamont said.
Meanwhile, Manitoba's Opposition Leader Wab Kinew wonders why it took so long to learn about the presence of the variant, after the province received the sample on Jan. 22.
"It's really important that we try and keep a handle on this situation and that we prevent that uncontrolled community spread from happening here. And I think that one of the important ways, at least one of the important factors for us to be able to do so, is for us to tighten that turnaround time," he said.
"Two-and-a-half weeks for us to be able to identify one of these variants is too long."
Pallister closed the news conference with a note of hope, but urged Manitobans to be extra careful.
"[It's] a day to remind one another that we need to be cautious and careful."
WATCH | Full news conference on public health orders and coronavirus variant | Feb. 9, 2021:
- An earlier version of this story said the sample later found to contain the new variant was originally delivered to the National Microbiology Lab on Jan. 22. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada says the NML didn't receive the sample until Feb. 4 and the result was released on Feb. 8.Feb 11, 2021 4:09 PM CT