On Saturday, the country’s largest province of Ontario reported the first two cases of the coronavirus strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom and has since spread to Australia, Japan and several European countries.
Provincial officials said the cases involved a couple from Durham Region with no known travel history, but had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K. A third case, an individual who had recently travelled from the U.K., was found in Ottawa on Sunday, a provincial health official confirmed to Global News. All three are now in self-isolation.
“Not heeding the advice of some experts to seriously curtail international travel is now demonstrably a mistake,” Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, told Global News.
“Nationally, we would do well to speed up vaccination and curtail international travel,” he said.
What we know about the new strain of coronavirus
Canada suspended flights from the U.K. on Dec. 20 for 72 hours due to concerns over the new variant and has since extended the suspension until Jan. 6, 2021.
Travellers are now asked “additional health screening questions” to see if they had visited a country that has reported the variant, according to Health Canada.
All travellers arriving in Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days.
What is the new variant?
Mutations, which are small changes in the genetic material of the virus, are common during outbreaks.
The U.K. variant was first announced by the British government on Dec. 14.
The strain, referred to by some experts as the B.1.1.7 lineage, is not the first new variant of COVID-19, but it has rapidly become the dominant strain in cases of COVID-19 in many parts of U.K. To date, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness.
But the variant is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the U.K and its cases has been found in several European countries, including France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
In recent weeks, at least two other variants have also been identified in South Africa and Nigeria.
Travellers arriving from UK encouraged to immediately be tested for COVID-19
Dr. Zain Chagla, medical director of infection control with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, said the new variants are similar to the current strain by “over 99 per cent” and there may also be other variants emerging in different countries that have not been detected due a lack of aggressive sequencing.
In a statement on Saturday, Health Canada said Canadian and global medical communities are actively evaluating the mutations.
“As the monitoring continues, it is expected that other cases of this variant and other variants of concern may be found in Canada,” the agency said.
Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of infectious diseases division at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said the SARS-CoV-2 virus is mutating fairly slowly and the frequency of new strains arising is “not excessive” at the moment
“It’s just that the sheer number of infected humans is so large that we are seeing mutations developing simply from the extraordinary frequency of viral replication globally,” he told Global News.
Coronavirus: Trudeau extends travel ban on U.K. for two weeks amid discovery of new COVID-19 variant
Ontario went into a province-wide lockdown earlier on Saturday, coinciding with Boxing Day, in an effort to curb the spread of the rising number of cases and hospitalizations.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the new variant “further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible.”
In light of recent developments, experts are urging people across the country not to panic and to continue adhering to public health measures.
“We’re in fairly strict restrictions and the same ones apply to preventing the B.1.1.7 variant — masking when indoors, testing with any symptoms, distancing, and staying home as much as possible,” Chagla said.
What does this mean for the vaccines?
Canada has so far approved two coronavirus vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
The country began its nationwide vaccine rollout earlier this month, with up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 168,000 from Moderna expected by the end of the year.
Experts and health officials say there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines will not be effective against the new variants.
“So far, early preliminary studies, not yet published, show that immunity induced by the current vaccine produces neutralizing antibodies that are effective against variants with the N501Y mutation,” Evans said.
“We will need further studies to corroborate these findings along with other mutations that have been documented.”
Chagla agreed. “Most indications are that the vaccines are spared,” he said.
“Both Pfizer and Moderna will confirm this in the coming weeks.”
Coronavirus: Heath Canada official says Moderna vaccine believed to be effective against new U.K. variant
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)