Politics

New COVID-19 variant not yet identified in Canada: Tam

A new variant of COVID-19 detected in the U.K. has not yet been identified in Canada, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during an update on Canada's fight against the pandemic Tuesday. Health Minister Patty Hajdu also said Health Canada has everything needed to complete its review of the Moderna vaccine.

Health Canada now has data needed to complete Moderna review, Hajdu says

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Howard Njoo looks on as Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference about COVID-19 on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the new variant of COVID-19, which has prompted many countries to implement travel restrictions against the United Kingdom, has not yet been identified in Canada.

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has said it is analyzing known cases to determine whether the new strain, which research suggests is significantly more transmissible than the variant currently dominant in Canada, is already in the country.

"Obviously it's an evolving situation," Tam said. "We've been very active in the last couple of days and activated all the scientific networks in Canada."

Tam made the remarks during an update on Canada's fight against COVID-19 Tuesday.

WATCH | Canada's public health agency says new COVID-19 strain found in the U.K. has not been detected in Canada:

Canada's public health agency says they haven't detected the new COVID-19 strain found in the UK

Politics News

2 months ago
1:39
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. 1:39

She said PHAC had to date looked at over 25,000 sequences of the virus already collected in Canada, saying these were the highest quality samples, and was working to determine the quality of other samples.

PHAC had also linked with several provincial authorities who were also sequencing existing samples, noting they had not detected the variant.

The ongoing analysis would target high-probability samples, Tam said, such as from people who had recently travelled.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo were present at the briefing.

Moderna decision coming 'very soon': Hajdu

At the briefing, Hajdu told reporters that Health Canada now has all the data it needs in order to complete its review of the Moderna vaccine. The government previously said the country could receive 168,000 doses of the vaccine by year's end.

"My understanding is that decision will be very soon," Hajdu said, noting she couldn't speak for the independent regulators.

The appearance of the new variant of COVID-19 has sparked concern that it may reduce the efficacy of existing vaccines.

But Tam said the current expert research suggests it is unlikely to have a significant effect on the current or soon-to-be-approved vaccines.

"Right now, we remain optimistic on that front," she said. Tam said it was important to work with the vaccine manufacturers and international partners — particularly the United Kingdom, which is also rolling out the Pfizer vaccine — in order to determine the potential effect of the new variant.

Travel ban on Britain expands due to new COVID-19 strain

CBC News

2 months ago
4:25
Countries across the world have halted air travel to the U.K., and France banned British trucks from entering for a period of 48 hours, while a new strain of the coronavirus is assessed. 4:25

The chief executive of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said Tuesday he was confident his company's vaccine would work against the new variant of COVID-19, but that studies are needed to prove it.

'Perilous time'

Tam also warned that Canada was currently on track for a strong resurgence of the virus over the next several months. She pointed to disturbing trends in cases, hospitalizations and mortality, and urged Canadians to continue to follow public health guidelines.

"This is a perilous time," she said.

WATCH | Public health measures can also address new COVID-19 strain, Tam says:

Dr. Tam says public health measures can also address new COVID strain found in UK

Politics News

2 months ago
2:33
Canada's chief public health officer spoke with reporters during the pandemic briefing in Ottawa on Tuesday. 2:33

Tam noted that there are again outbreaks in long-term care homes, and that unlike the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, the virus was also reaching remote communities.

"With the widespread resurgence right now, there's a much more broad impact across all areas of Canada, and you can see the impact in Nunavut," Tam said. Nunavut reported its first two deaths related to COVID-19 on Sunday.

"And we're only getting into the winter," she said.

She said the exhaustion of health-care workers, and ordinary Canadians, was one reason the next few months would be so difficult.

As of 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had recorded a total of 520,045 cases of COVID-19, and a CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,402. Ontario and Quebec each recorded more than 2,000 new cases today.

Blair pushes back on border concerns

Ministers also sought to counter criticism on their handling of border restrictions, brought on by the announcement of the three day ban on flights from the United Kingdom.

"Unfortunately over the past few days we've heard a number of comments which frankly are an unfortunate misrepresentation of what is actually happening at our borders," Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said.

WATCH | Federal officials say Canadian border controls are some of the toughest in the world:

Federal officials say Canadian border controls are some of the toughest in the world

Politics News

2 months ago
2:26
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that the federal government wasn't doing enough to stop the international spread of the virus. 2:26

He described the screening and quarantine measures in place since the spring and argued Canada has been among the most aggressive countries in controlling entry during the pandemic.

"We have not been slow and not been unresponsive to the concerns that Canadians have," Blair said.

A passenger sits in a quiet Pearson airport, in Toronto, on Dec. 21, 2020 as Premier Doug Ford announces that all of Ontario will move into a lockdown starting on Boxing Day and travel restrictions aimed at the United Kingdom go into effect. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The remarks follow harsh criticism from Ontario Premier Doug Ford on both Monday and Tuesday. Ford described the border as a "sieve" and argued for a more effective testing system at airports across the country.

Ford on Tuesday said he was asking the federal government to implement a requirement for pre-departure tests for people trying to come to Canada.

Blair said international travel was the source of just 1.8 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada throughout the pandemic.

"What we're seeing now is that the biggest problem in Canada is community transmission inside Canada, it's not really the importation of cases," said Njoo.

Watch: Bill Blair says roughly 300 passengers per day have travelled to Canada from the U.K. in recent weeks.:

U.K. passengers who recently entered Canada could number in the thousands

TV Shows

2 months ago
1:47
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair says roughly 300 passengers per day have travelled to Canada from the U.K. in recent weeks, but that they are all held to strict quarantine measures. 1:47

About the Author

Christian Paas-Lang

Associate Producer

Christian Paas-Lang is an Associate Producer with The House.

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