COVID-19 in Canada: Ontario reports first cases of U.K. variant

A couple in Durham Region with no known travel history have tested positive for the fast-spreading coronavirus variant

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      Two cases of the fast-spreading COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. have been reported in Durham Region, the Ontario government confirmed today (December 26).

      The cases are a couple with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts, the province said in a statement. Both people have been informed and are in self-isolation.

      “This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the province-wide shutdown measures beginning today,” said Ontario’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said in a statement.

      “Durham Region Health Department has conducted case and contact investigation and Ontario is working in collaboration with our federal counterparts at the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

      Ontario is the first province in Canada to confirm cases of the U.K. variant.

      The highly transmissible form the virus has also been detected in Japan, France, Belgium, Australia, and the Netherlands, among other countries.

      Data modelling and epidemiological studies have found no evidence the variant is deadlier or more likely to lead to serious illness than others.

      However, a recent study by the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that the variant is 56 percent more contagious. The British government has put the estimate higher—at 70 percent.

      “There is no evidence to suggest that the Health Canada-approved vaccines will be any less effective against the new variant,” the Ontario government said in a statement.

      In response to the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suspended passenger flights from the U.K., which has been extended until January 6.

      British officials believe the variant emerged in September and circulated at low levels initially. Positivity rates are increasing sharply in parts of England, with the highest number of people testing positive in London.

      U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since imposed a lockdown on London and most of southeast England in a bid to cut off the capital and surrounding area from the rest of the country.

      Ontario reported two days worth of COVID-19 data on December 26 as the province enters a new lockdown. In the past 48 hours, there have been 4,301 new cases and 81 deaths.

      Meanwhile, a second variant has been identified in South Africa, which was detected in the U.K. on December 23. A third variant may have been found in Nigeria but requires further investigation. 

      With files from Craig Takeuchi.