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At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the next months are going to be “really difficult” in the country, and actions to reduce any risks of importation and escalation of COVID-19 are going to be crucial.
Her comments come as Canada has confirmed nine cases of the COVID-19 variant that was initially identified in the U.K. No cases of the variant identified in South Africa have been identified in Canada yet.
“Mutation of the virus can occur all the time and these variants of concern, that have mutations (that could have) increased transmission or other features, can actually come up in different areas of the world, not just the U.K.,” Dr. Tam explained.
“These broad recommendations of avoiding non-essential travel is really critical.”
She added that travellers from the U.K. and South Africa will be “picked out of the lineup” when they enter Canada for additional scrutiny, but stressed that maintaining broader public health measures is essential, not just targeting one country at a time. Dr. Tam said this is particularly true as some countries are better equipped to detect COVID-19 variants than others.
Canada has been doing genomic sequencing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at a rate of about five per cent of cases to date. Dr. Tam said this is now being accelerated in coordination with the federal and provincial governments.
Canada’s chief public health officer said if spread of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. accelerates, additional public health measures may need to be put in place.
“The community public health measures are really important if you’re going to stop rapid spread,” she said.
Dr. Tam also stressed that Canadians have a “difficult task ahead” to curb the spread of COVID-19 more generally across the country.
She highlighted that in just over two weeks, Canada saw an increase of 100,000 cases. Back in the spring and summer of 2020, it took about five months for Canada to hit its first 100,000 cases.
“This ever more rapid accumulation of cases will continue until we can make significant progress in interrupting spread,” Dr. Tam said.