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Ontario health officials provided more clarity around the new variant of COVID-19 that was initially discovered in the U.K. and has now been identified in the province.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Vanessa Allen, the chief of medical microbiology at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory, explained that it is very common for viruses to mutate but the “unusual” aspect of this variant is that there are more changes, compared to the expected mutation rate.
She added that people have been “raising the alarm bells” about this COVID-19 variant because early data from the U.K. has suggested that it is more transmissible, more contagious than previous variants of the COVID-19 causing disease.
Dr. Allen added that preliminary studies also do not show any evidence that this variant causes more severe side effects associated with the disease.
In Ontario, COVID-19 tests are able to detect the new COVID-19 variant.
“We have in place and we’re further enhancing the system to perform surveillance of potential variants through what we call genomic surveillance,” Dr. Allen said. “We already sequence over 10 per cent of all positive strains.”
“To date, we have not seen any community cases of the U.K. variant but we need to be vigilant both in terms of detecting that and potentially other variants that may emerge over time.”
On Sunday, Ontario confirmed three cases of the new COVID-19 variant. Most recently, one individual in Ottawa who returned from travel to the U.K. There are also two cases in the Durham Region, a couple who had no recent travel history but were in close contact with someone who recently travelled to the U.K.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s deputy chief medical officer of health, said that is it important for people to quarantine when they return to the province and said the Ontario government has been urging the federal government to strengthen its measure to ensure compliance with the 14-day quarantine rule.
“At the end of the day, it still does depend on individuals to comply,” Dr. Yaffe said.