Manitoba records first COVID-19 death linked to delta variant
Previously reported death of Winnipeg man in 50s later reclassified as linked to delta, or B.1.617.2 variant
The death of a man in Winnipeg has been linked to the B.1.617.2 — or delta — coronavirus variant of concern, making it the first such death reported in Manitoba.
A man in his 50s from the Winnipeg Health Region died due to the variant, a provincial spokesperson said Tuesday. The death was reported previously, though not as being linked to the delta variant.
That was later confirmed through further investigation, the spokesperson said.
There have been 78 known cases in the province to date of the delta variant, which was originally detected in India. Over a third of those are in the Northern Health Region, and a quarter of the reported infections have no known source, according to the provincial variant dashboard.
"We certainly should be concerned right now," said epidemiologist Jason Kindrachuk, a University of Manitoba professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses.
"We haven't recovered yet obviously from the third wave.… We need to be extremely cautious and very fluid in our ideas of reopening."
Experts believe delta could be between 40 and 60 per cent more contagious than the alpha variant, also known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in the United Kingdom, said Kindrachuk. The alpha variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain, he said.
A surge in delta cases has threatened to delay reopening plans in the U.K. There are pockets of Ontario and elsewhere in Canada where numbers are on the rise, and experts in Alberta predict delta could become the dominant variant there by the end of this month.
That's worrisome, says University of Calgary developmental biologist Gosia Gasperowicz.
"It goes out of control really fast and we won't be able to keep up with vaccination with that," she said.
Gasperowicz wants all levels of government to focus on ending transmission chains by scaling back reopening plans and prioritizing vaccination.
The presence of the delta variant in a community without strong public health measures gives the strain free rein to spread and kill people, she warns.
"If we are open to the extent we are open and we are opening even more, we won't stop it. So we are basically heading into the fourth wave in Alberta, and I think the similar story might be in Manitoba," she said.
Low vaccine uptake in some parts of the province is concerning to Kindrachuk.
"We still have a substantial portion of Canadians that haven't yet gotten even a first vaccination; those are the communities that we need to be concerned about," he said.
"We know that this is going to reach more people at a faster rate, and unfortunately it will result in more people going to hospital."
5 hospitalizations linked to delta
There have been five Manitoba hospitalizations linked to the delta variant so far, including one patient who landed in intensive care and has since been discharged, a provincial spokesperson said.
Delta makes up about half a per cent of known variant cases in the province; B.1.1.7 represents 44 per cent; and 55 per cent of all variant cases identified so far are listed as unspecified.
The delta variant isn't picked up in standard screening procedures, so a subsequent round of sequencing is applied to suspect samples. The majority of sequencing is done at Cadham Provincial Laboratory and Dynacare labs, a provincial spokesperson said.
Some research suggests a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective at preventing infection against the delta than other variants. All the more reason Manitobans should remain vigilant, said Kindrachuk.
"[Vaccines] are playing a definitive role in our ability to try and curb transmission, but it still is incumbent upon us to do that," he said.
"If we continue to put ourselves in positions where we're allowing basically the virus to move from point A to point B, that is going to derail things very quickly."
Kindrachuk said Manitobans need to continue to be extremely cautious, particularly in indoor environments.
So far, 69 per cent of eligible Manitobans have received their first dose. About 18 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Manitobans can book their appointment on the provincial website or by calling 1-844-626-8222.
- This story has been updated to clarify how mRNA vaccines use genetic material from the novel coronavirus to provoke an immune response in the body.Jun 13, 2021 11:40 AM CT
With files from Jill Coubrough and Rachel Bergen