First case of U.K.'s coronavirus variant detected in Quebec

A statement from Quebec's Health Ministry says infected traveller had close contacts with three relatives after returning home on Dec. 11, more than a week before flights from the U.K. were halted. One has tested positive for the variant.

Patient had come into contact with family member returning from U.K.

Canadians are being discouraged from travelling abroad to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The first known case of a Quebecer infected with a new coronavirus variant seems to be a person who caught it after coming into contact with a family member who had recently returned from the United Kingdom.

A statement from Quebec's Health Ministry says the traveller had close contact with three members of their immediate family after returning home on Dec. 11, more than a week before flights from the U.K. were temporarily halted by the federal government.

The government says the traveller followed quarantine rules and was at home with their family. On Dec. 13 the traveller tested positive and since then, all three family members have also tested positive. 

Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province's director of public health, said at a news conference Tuesday that this mutation does not appear more dangerous than the original strain, but that it "could be more contagious."

The McGill University Health Centre detected the variant, believed to have originated in the U.K., in just one of those family members. 

"The spread of the virus depends not just on the biological properties of the virus, but also on our behaviour," said Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and epidemiologist in Montreal, who added it is normal for viruses to mutate.

"Everything that was true a week ago — stay home, wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands — all of that is still true and all of that is still going to prevent the spread of the virus."

Based on what is currently known about the variant, which may be more infectious than the original strain, Labos said public health guidelines will likely not change with the confirmation of its arrival in Quebec.

Cases of the coronavirus variant have already been detected in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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