A variant of COVID-19 first identified in Brazil is quickly spreading in parts of the Western provinces, where it has swept three work sites in Alberta and forced the closing of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia.
A single person who travelled out of Alberta is believed to be responsible for triggering a “significant outbreak” of the P.1 variant at the three work sites, according to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Deena Hinshaw said the traveller returning to Alberta is believed to have brought the variant to a “large employer with multiple sites across Western Canada,” where employees then spread it across three sites in the Central and North zones. “We have now identified 26 COVID-19 cases linked to employees at these three sites, and their household contacts,” Dr. Hinshaw said in a series of tweets Monday afternoon. “So far, only three are confirmed P.1 cases, but this will likely increase as more results come in.”
Alberta also confirmed a separate, unrelated P.1 outbreak at a workplace in the Calgary zone so far involving five cases, of which one is confirmed to be the P.1 variant, she said.
Dr. Hinshaw did not identify any of the employers, however PTW Energy Services Ltd., headquartered in Calgary, confirmed the three employee P.1 variant cases at its Drayton Valley, Edson and Hinton offices.
The company said in a statement it has hired a third party to carry out a review and is working with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Occupational Health and Safety to monitor, communicate and manage the situation.
Alberta reported 887 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, of which 432 were variants of concern. Nearly 40 per cent of active cases in the province are now variants. There are 312 people in hospital, of which 76 are in intensive care.
Meanwhile, British Columbia reported 890 new cases on Monday, and 999 the 24 hours prior. Since April 1, the province has confirmed 916 new cases that are variants of concern. Of 373 confirmed active variant cases, 215 are the P.1 variant, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
From a total of 3,559 variant cases, 737 are the P.1 variant, 2,771 are the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain, and 51 are the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. B.C.’s first cluster of 13 P.1 cases was detected on March 9.
Emerging research has shown the P.1 variant to be up to 2.5 times more transmissible than the common SARS-CoV-2 strain. A separate study found that out of 100 people to contract COVID-19, 25 to 60 could become infected again with the variant. Younger people are also experiencing more severe disease from the variants than they are from the original virus.
Dr. Hinshaw did not disclose where the person responsible for the P.1 outbreak had travelled. However, Alberta Health on Saturday advised some reporters that it was “out of Canada,” only to issue a correction the following day saying that was inaccurate.
Mr. Dix said he was not aware of a specific workplace outbreak that spread the P.1 variant from B.C. to Alberta.
“I think it’s fair to say that the virus has spread from other jurisdictions to here, and inevitably spread from here to other jurisdictions,” he told reporters. “That includes, for example, places like Whistler, where people have come from outside of B.C. to there. There was spread there, so maybe they’ve spread when they return home.”
On Monday, Canucks rookie Nils Hoglander was added to the team’s COVID-19 protocol list, bringing the total number of active players unavailable to play because of illness or potential exposure to 17. A number of the coaching staff and taxi squad have also reportedly contracted the disease.
Postmedia reports that the P.1 variant is driving the Canucks outbreak, however neither the club nor the NHL has confirmed this.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he remains confident that the team will be able to complete its schedule, telling The Canadian Press in an e-mail that the Canucks’ numbers are “concerning from a health and safety standpoint, not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint.”
Canucks general manager Jim Benning thanked fans for their support.
“Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible,” he said in a statement released Sunday.
“Our focus continues to be on the health of everyone involved and we are thankful for the extraordinary health care and guidance we have received from our team’s medical staff, B.C.’s health officials, and from NHL and NHLPA medical experts.”
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