Detection of U.K. variant of COVID-19 in Manitoba may only be a matter of time, experts warn

WINNIPEG — As Manitobans look for ways to embrace winter amid the pandemic, a new threat has emerged.

A small number of cases of a variant of COVID-19, first identified in the United Kingdom, have now been detected in Canada.

“Of course, I do feel worried about that variant coming here because I see people that aren’t following the rules properly,” said Sandra Gossen, who was enjoying a walk along Wellington Crescent.

The newer version of the virus has been found in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec but so far not in Manitoba. Some experts fear that could eventually change.

“Unfortunately, at this point, it probably is only a matter of time,” said Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg-based epidemiologist with EPI Research Inc.

Carr said that’s because research suggests the variant is more transmissible, however no more deadly.

She said its presence in other provinces is another reason for Manitobans to stay vigilant and follow public health measures to stop the spread.

“Remember the less we let this virus spread, the less that variant can get into our community,” said Carr. “The variant or any virus needs a living body in which to reproduce and live.”

Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses, said the variant is a cause for concern.

“We’re seeing quite a bit of data coming out of the U.K. suggesting this is certainly a more transmissible virus. It doesn’t seem to be more virulent,” said Kindrachuk.

But he said that’s no reason to take it lightly.

“The fact that this virus, or this variant seems to be able to transmit wider means that ultimately if it gets into a population, that means more cases, more hospitalizations and more fatalities so we need to be very vigilant.”

Canada has banned travel from the U.K. The federal government on Wednesday announced all passengers on flights entering the country will soon need a negative COVID-19 test three days before arrival. The 14-day self-isolation period remains in effect.

“The evidence is very strong that that has proven to be our most effective line of defence,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. 

Manitoba has its own isolation rules. Anyone entering the province from east of Terrace Bay, Ont. must isolate for 14 days. However, travellers from northwestern Ontario and western Canada, including B.C. and Alberta, remain exempt.

Public health officials in Manitoba were asked last week before the variant was detected in Canada whether the isolation requirement would be reinstated to include travellers from western provinces.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said at the time it’s something that’s looked at on a regular basis.

But as of right now travellers from the west remain exempt. 

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