A disease expert with Simon Fraser University says there are “definitely more cases” of the U.K. COVID-19 variant in B.C.
The warning comes one day after health officials in the province revealed a person on Vancouver Island tested positive for the disease.
Health officials in Alberta also announced Monday they had detected a case of the variant, bringing Canada’s total number of cases to five. A couple in the Toronto area and another person in Ottawa also carry the variant, with all cases linked to recent travel from the United Kingdom.
B.C. officials say a person flew into Vancouver International Airport from London on Dec. 15 and started developing symptoms in quarantine on Vancouver Island. They were tested immediately and a positive result for COVID-19 came back on Dec.19.
By Dec. 27, it was revealed the individual carried the new variant.
No details were provided on how the person travelled from YVR to Vancouver Island. CTV News asked the Ministry of Health if the traveller took a ferry.
“While I’m unable to comment on that level of detail because of patient privacy, I can confirm that a small number of close contacts are isolating and that the individual followed quarantine rules,” a spokesperson responded in a written statement.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the company hasn’t been contacted by authorities about contact-tracing regarding the Dec. 15 flight, but added there are “procedures in place if someone with COVID were to travel returning home by staying in their vehicle on the open car decks or isolating in an area of a ship.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s concerning that the variant has appeared on the island, but that “this is a reminder to all of us to stay in our bubble, to hunker down.”
“We’re not through this yet, this is more evidence of that,” Helps said.
The variant was first detected in the United Kingdom and has since been found in other countries around the world.
Fiona Brinkman is a professor with the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University, and is also involved with the implementation committee for the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network. She says there are already a number of variants of the COVID-19 virus in existence.
“(There’s) one mutation about every two weeks and what happens is you end up with this virus that is constantly evolving,” Brinkman said.
She explained the difference with this variant from the U.K. is that it’s shown in lab tests to cause higher infectivity and could spread faster, adding “there’s a real concern about any other mutations that could come on top of that variant.”
When asked if there could be more cases of the variant found in B.C., Brinkman noted the variant is estiamted to have emerged around September.
She said news of the variant arriving in Canada is even more reason for people to stick with the current restrictions in place, and only travel if it’s essential.
“(People) really should be staying local, connecting with people in other ways and really reducing travel,” she said. “We’re in a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, we’re in a bit of a race to get the vaccine into people before new variants occur.”