The new variant of coronavirus running rampant in the United Kingdom has not yet been identified in Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday.
“To date, Canada has not identified the new variant of the coronavirus under investigation in the United Kingdom,” she said, adding that “we’re still looking.”
“This is a perilous time.”
Tam said in all probability, the new strain will likely eventually make its way to Canada, however there are several variables that are helping slow it down.
Geographically, Canada and the U.K. are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and as noted by Bill Blair, “we are one of the few countries in the world that restricts all non-essential travel.” There is also a 14-day quarantine for all travellers entering Canada that has been in place since March.
Specifically with regard to Britain, Blair said Canada has closed its borders to all flights coming from the U.K. The 72 hour travel ban has yet to be extended, although Tam has said that officials will be re-evaluating based on the incoming data.
Enhanced screening has been put in place at all Canadian airports and at all points of entry for travellers who may be arriving from the United Kingdom indirectly. In the event someone has entered Canada indirectly, Blair said they are referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada at both land and air ports of entry.
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“The vast majority of people who are exempt from the quarantine restrictions are truck drivers, people who are doing the essential work of bringing much needed supplies and goods into our country each and every day,” he said.
“All travellers are also required to provide full contact and quarantine information.”
Blair added that travel accounts for only 1.8 per cent of all COVID-19 cases detected in Canada, with the majority resulting from community transmission.
The U.K. variant, has been transmitting mainly in London and the southeast of England since it was first announced by the British government on Dec. 14.
On Saturday, the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the strain could be up to 70 per ent more transmissible than the current variant, leading a slew of countries including Canada, France, Germany and Italy to enact travel bans in an effort to quell the spread of the virus.
So far, Tam said the Canadian government has analyzed over 25,000 genomic sequences of the virus looking for lineage of the U.K. variant throughout the country.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that this variant is in many different countries,” she said, adding that “it may become one of the more common strains.”
Modern science has put the virus and its mutations under “extreme microscopic examination,” but she emphasized that variants were to be expected in viruses of this nature.
More to come.