While the number of daily COVID-19 cases in BC has dipped slightly, the province still continues to grapple with caseloads in the hundreds.
And when it comes to the source of these new cases, BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said most continue to be “directly linked” to a previously-known case, cluster, or outbreak.
“We understand where the vast majority of people have been exposed and the vast majority of those exposures are linked to cases that we know of,” said Henry during a press conference on Wednesday.
This, she said, means that health officials “have not lost the ability” to do contact tracing and to identify outbreaks “as early as possible.”
Her comments come as the province reported 518 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing BC’s recorded total to 48,027.
Henry said that by specific health region, this equates to 97 new cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 332 in the Fraser Health region, nine in the Island Health region, 49 in the Interior Health region, and 31 in the Northern Health region.
There are 9,137 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. There are 348 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19, 80 of whom are in intensive care. The remaining people are recovering at home in self-isolation.
Currently, 9,689 people are under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases, and there have been 19 new COVID-19-related deaths, for a total of 796 deaths in British Columbia.
A total of 36,952 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have now recovered.
New variants of novel coronavirus detected worldwide, worrying public health experts – CTV News
More variants of the novel coronavirus are being detected worldwide, ramping up fears in Canada around the increased transmission some of these variants could bring.
They’re known as “variants of concern” according to the World Health Organization, and since the first variant emerged in the U.K., it and other variants have spread to numerous countries. The U.K. variant alone has been detected in 60 countries. A new variant emerged this week in a German ski town in Bavaria, making up 35 newly-infected cases in the hospital, according to local media reports.
Officials said the variant was different than others making their way across the globe.
In virus-stricken California, where doctors are already dealing with overwhelmed hospitals as a result of the highly transmissible U.K. variant, another variant has also been ramping up.
It’s called “452R” and isn’t technically new — it was first detected in Denmark a year ago and in California since May. It’s not thought to be more deadly, but it could be more transmissible than the original virus, like most of the variants that have been discovered.
“Something that’s stickier like this new variant potentially is can cause us to have setbacks in all of the hard work that we’ve done so far,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor with the University of California San Fransisco School of Medicine.
Two of the variants causing a lot of concern are from Brazil and from South Africa.
Scientists from the lab that discovered the South Africa variant (known as the 501Y.V2 variant) explained that the variant is more efficient at targeting healthy cells because of key mutations in its structure.
“It has to get in and it has to get out before the cell dies, because the virus has no life of its own,” Alex Sigal, with the African Health Research Institute, explained to CNN.
Studying how these variants work will be a hugely important part of the COVID-19 response, WHO stressed in a recent press release. The organization held an emergency meeting last week to address the topic of the variants, affirming the importance of global collaboration on research.
In the meeting, WHO vowed to make the sequencing of different variants a priority by improving capacity for that type of research worldwide.
Scientists in Canada are also on the hunt to get answers about these variants and others like them.
Graham Tipples, medical scientific director of the provincial Public Health Lab in Alberta, told CTV News that variants outside of those scientists have already identified will certainly “continue to arise,” and that we’ll only know through research if they pose a unique threat or not.
“We need to understand whether any of them have significant altered characteristics that might affect immunization, that might affect diagnostics, that might affect causing more severe disease,” he said.
He added that scientists needed to keep an eye on the specific structure of the variants for testing as well.
“The targets that we have for our diagnostic test may be affected by a particular mutation, so we have to be aware of how the virus changes so that our tests don’t come up negative, because of a mutation.”
Some doctors are so concerned about the potential spread of these new variants in Canada that they’ve launched a petition asking governments to restrict travel to stop variants from arriving here.
The petition declares that “the #CanadianShield starts at the border” and notes that the B.1.1.7 variant – one of several terms for the U.K. variant – is estimated to be 30-60 per cent more transmissible than the current strain circulating in Canada.
The petition calls on the federal government to restrict international travel by more clearly defining essential travel and enforcing the criteria.
Scientists say we need to remain vigilant when it comes to these variants.
“There could be ones that may be more deadly down the road, and so we want to make sure we try to reduce the amount of virus spreading because the more we allow it to spread, the more chance of these variants to appear,” Jeff Kwong, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of Toronto, told CTV News.
He pointed out that the U.K. variant has already led to huge outbreaks in the U.K. Only a few cases of this variant have been identified in Canada so far, but experts say if it is allowed to spread, it could become the dominant strain.
“We need to make sure we don’t allow for more cases to come into Canada, because once it catches fire here then we’re in big trouble,” Kwong said.
What's different about the coronavirus 'variants of concern' flagged by WHO – CBC.ca
The seemingly more transmissible variants of the coronavirus first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil are called “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization.
What sets the variants of concern apart from run-of-the-mill mutations is they could help the virus to infect human cells more easily or transmit person to person. If so, the variant gains a competitive advantage to wrestle aside other versions of the virus.
So far, there are no signs of the variants worsening severe outcomes from the disease directly. But the fear is they will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths by spreading much more easily to more people.
Here’s a look at what’s driving the concern and calls for more precautions in Canada.
Where are the variants found in Canada?
Canada’s national microbiology lab has to date reported 23 cases of the B117 virus variant first identified in the U.K. and two cases of the variant first reported in South Africa.
Most provinces aren’t testing all samples for the variants. Only Saskatchewan says all of its COVID-19 tests will detect the B117 variant.
Health officials say when greater transmission results in more people testing positive, then more hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and eventually deaths will follow.
And the more that a virus circulates — either worldwide or in a particular community — the more opportunities it has to mutate.
How quickly and to what extent are the variants spreading?
Virus and infectious disease experts say that to get a handle on how quickly the variants are spreading in Canada requires more surveillance.
But genome sequencing is a research tool that is costly and time consuming to use clinically. That’s why labs across the country are working to develop faster assays for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, noted Monday that some of the province’s cases of variants don’t have a travel history.
“We do expect more cases to be identified in the weeks to follow, as there is evidence now of community transmission,” Yaffe said.
Last week, Yaffe called community transmission “a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough.”
Public health officials are on the lookout for variants showing community transmission because it means the source of an outbreak can no longer be traced back to travel abroad. At that point, an outbreak can quickly spiral, so time is of the essence.
If the B117 variant spreads in the community, the doubling time for cases could drop to 10 days in March from every 35 to 40 days now, Ontario health officials estimated.
What would experts like to see next?
Art Poon, an associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University in London, Ont., develops computer methods to study the evolution of viruses, such as an app called CoVizu that’s listed by the GISAID Initiative — an international non-profit project to share genome data on viruses.
Poon said that the variants of concern show more mutations than scientists would expect.
WATCH | New coronavirus variant emerges in Brazil:
“I think, sadly, we’re going to see increasing frequency of this particular [B117] variant and disproportionate growth of this in other countries,” he said of what’s been seen so far in Britain.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is also looking for more surveillance of variants, as well as other precautions.
Saxinger said she would like to see tighter controls at Canada’s border with the United States, both by land and air. This includes checks to ensure international travellers obey requirements in the Quarantine Act and aren’t carrying the infection unknowingly and spreading it, as well as possibly an interprovincial travel ban, which has been proposed by B.C. Premier John Horgan.
“We don’t want there to be multiple importations of these difficult mutations before we have an opportunity to detect and control them,” Saxinger said. “We should probably try to keep a tight lid on things until we sort out what’s what, if this is a big deal, where it’s a big deal and how it might be controlled.”
Limiting importations of the variants means less fuel for the fire. “If you’re not having that many potential sparks hitting your tinder, you have a much better chance of being able to control it,” she said.
Saxinger is one of the signatories to a petition released Tuesday calling on the federal government to immediately act to reduce opportunities for variant entry by restricting international travel to essential travel, as well as other precautions.
Manitoba health officials to give update on COVID-19 cases – CTV News Winnipeg
Manitoba health officials are set to provide an update on Wednesday afternoon regarding the province’s COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, and Dr. Joss Reimer, a member of Manitoba’s COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Task Force, will be speaking at a news conference at the Manitoba Legislative Building at 12:30 p.m. CTV News Winnipeg will live-stream the event.
This news conference comes one day after the province announced proposed changes to the current Code Red restrictions, including allowing more stores in the province to reopen and relaxing some of the rules around visitations.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said the province is taking a cautious approach to reopening.
“We don’t want to go back and forth,” he said.
“We want to have a slow, cautious approach so we can continue reopening over time and not have to go back and close certain things again.”
On Tuesday, the province announced 111 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases to 3,088.
Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate is sitting at 9.9 per cent, while Winnipeg’s test positivity rate is at 7.4 per cent.
Health officials also announced 11 deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, which brings Manitoba’s death toll to 783.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 27,740 cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba.
This is a developing story. More details to come.
– With files from CTV’s Danton Unger and Devon McKendrick.
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