OTTAWA (CityNews) – Cases of COVID-19 variants are on the rise across Canada with Health Canada reporting nearly 11,000 cases of B.1.1.7, and nearly 500 cases of variant P.1 as of Monday. Virologists say the current data shows the variants could be more than twice as transmissible as the original strain.
“The B.1.1.7 variant which is most common is definitely more contagious, we think the other ones are too. It’s hard to measure. But that means less exposure time, and lower viral dose are both ways you can still get sick,” stated Colin Furness, Infection Control Epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. “If you go to a grocery store, or there’s a child attending school, they may be exposed to COVID and just not at enough of a dose to get them sick. So now the bar is lower.
P.1 is hitting Western Canada hard right now, with B.C. reporting 379 cases on Thursday, which is more than any other jurisdiction outside of the country where it was first detected.
Alberta has reported 600 variant cases, but did not specify which strain. However, over the weekend Alberta health officials announced a significant P.1 outbreak, which is under investigation.
“The important thing to understand is that they’re variants of concern, because they’re coming out much stronger than the initial virus,” explained Benoît Barbeau, Virology professor at Université du Québec à Montréal.
“Some people are actually referring to it as two-and-a-half times more transmissible, although the value will probably lower. Nonetheless, that is sufficient for that variant, that virus, to be much more transmittable, and to create those kinds of exponential growth curves.”
Barbeau says virus mutations occur all the time, but only the fittest mutations survive and spread to become new variants. Perhaps the best illustration of the danger of this fast moving variant is with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks have 17 players on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, with a number of them reportedly showing variant symptoms.
“There’s not only the players that are on the list, but also three members of the coaching staff affected, and a couple members of the taxi squad,’ explained Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “Basically what the NHL decided to do as of the weekend, is say, ‘we’re going to act as if everyone is going to be affected’.”
The Canucks outbreak is unique. It’s happening inside a strict bubble that sees daily testing, and chiefly among young, physically fit men. Barbeau says this underlines the difficulty of managing risk of exposure.
“You know there’s no ‘zero risk’. I mean, even though if you’re wearing masks, very careful, there’s always possibility that you can be infected. Remind yourself that if you do all those measures, at least you’re reducing substantially, the risk that you’re getting infected,” added Barbeau.
While there may not be zero risk, the ways of lowering your own personal risk remain the same with variants. Wash your hands, mask up, and stay two meters away from people from outside your bubble, whenever possible.
-With file from Xiao Li