The new variant of COVID-19, which prompted many countries to implement travel restrictions against the United Kingdom, has not yet been identified in Canada, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tom.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHIC) has said it will analyze known events to see if there is already a new strain on research that is significantly more prevalent in Canada than it currently dominates.
“Obviously this is a growing situation,” Tom said. “We ‘ve been very active over the last two days, activating all the science networks in Canada.”
Tom made the remarks during an update on Canada’s struggle against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Watch | The Canadian Institute of Public Health says they have not found a new COVID-19 strain found in the UK
He said the PHAC should look at more than 25,000 views of the virus already collected in Canada to date, adding that these are the highest quality samples and work to determine the quality of other samples.
The PHAC has been in contact with a number of provincial officials, who are sorting out existing samples, noting that they have not found variability.
The current analysis will target high probability models, Tom said from recent travelers.
The conference was attended by Health Minister Patti Hajdu, Minister of State for Public Affairs Dominic Leplang, Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tom and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Noo.
Modern end ‘very soon’: Hajj
At the conference, Hajj told reporters that Health Canada now has all the data needed to complete its evaluation of the modern vaccine. The government had earlier said that 168,000 doses of the vaccine would be available in the country by the end of the year.
“My understanding is that the results will come very soon,” Hajdu said, noting that independent regulators cannot speak for themselves.
The emergence of a new variant of COVID-19 has raised concerns that it may reduce the effectiveness of existing vaccines.
But Tom said current expert research is unlikely to have a significant impact on current or soon-approved vaccines.
“Right now, we are confident in that front,” he said. Tom said it was important to work with vaccine manufacturers and international partners – especially the United Kingdom, to develop the Pfizer vaccine to determine the potential impact of the new variant.
Tom also warned that Canada is currently on the path to a strong upsurge of the virus over the next several months. He pointed to confusing trends in lawsuits, hospitalizations and deaths, and urged Canadians to continue to follow public health guidelines.
“This is a dangerous time,” he said.
Tom noted that long-term care homes have recurrent outbreaks and that, unlike the first wave of infection in the spring, the virus reaches remote communities.
“Now with the widespread resurgence, there is an even wider impact in all parts of Canada, and you can see its impact in Nunavut,” Tom said. Nunavut reported the first two deaths related to COVID-19 on Sunday.
“We only come in the winter,” he said.
He said the fatigue of health workers and ordinary Canadians was one reason why the next few months would be so difficult.
As of 2 a.m. Tuesday, a total of 519,709 Govt-19 cases had been reported in Canada, and the CBC News death toll was 14,381. Ontario and Quebec each registered more than 2,000 new cases today.
Blair pushes border concerns
Ministers also sought to counter criticism of their handling of border controls, announcing a three-day ban on flights from the United Kingdom.
“Unfortunately we have heard a lot of comments over the last few days, which is a sad misrepresentation of what is really going on within our borders,” said Public Security Minister Bill Blair.
He described screening and isolation measures since the spring and argued that Canada is also one of the most aggressive countries in controlling entry during epidemics.
“We were not slow and did not respond to the concerns of Canadians,” Blair said.
The comments followed harsh criticism of Ontario Premier Duck Ford on Monday and Tuesday. Ford described the border as a “sieve” and argued for a more effective testing system at airports across the country.
Ford said on Tuesday it was asking the federal government to implement a pre-departure test requirement for people trying to come to Canada.
Blair said international travel was the source of just 1.8 percent of COVID-19 cases in Canada across the epidemic.