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Not enough data to determine if COVID-19 variants could halt reopening plans, says doctor

Last Updated Feb 5, 2021 at 6:37 am MDT

CALGARY – Dine-in service at restaurants and personal fitness training return to Alberta Monday but as new COVID-19 variants spread, it’s not clear how the largely-unknown-threat will affect those plans.

“I believe there are more than 100 countries that have reported the presence of the variant detected in the U.K., the B.1.1.7, and the same for the South African variants, it’s really spread fast across different countries,” explained Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, the Executive Director of Canadian COVID Genomics Network.

Data shows the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, for example, is much more contagious, accounting for more than 70 per cent of cases in the U.K. towards the end of last year–and it’s still rising.

“It’s basically almost a race between the virus and the vaccine. The vaccines are being developed, they are being changed and the virus is changing and we’re again changing as soon as we detect the new variants,” she said.

As of Thursday, there were 68 variant cases in Alberta, with four of those detected in a daycare outbreak. Some of those were not traceable.

While health officials say they’re keeping a close eye on the situation, the threat of new variants hasn’t changed the reopening plan.

“There are some reports, very preliminary, and we need more data to confirm that are indicating potentially association with maybe an increase in deaths, but again, this is very preliminary. We need more data,” said Lopez-Correa.

This means there’s not enough information to make definitive statements about how contagious and/or deadly the new variants could be which would help guide public health policy.

“I am on one hand concerned about the new variants, we are all concerned about the new variants, but also optimistic thinking that all the science investment and technologies we have will help us respond and adapts those new vaccines to those new variants,” she said.