Ontario confirms first case of the B.1.3.5.1 COVID-19 variant, first detected in South Africa

Elisabetta Bianchini
·3-min read

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Ontario has confirmed its first case of the B.1.3.5.1 COVID-19 variant, first identified in South Africa, in a resident in the Peel Region.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said this individual does not have a history of travel and has not had any known contact with someone who has travelled. Public health in Peel will continue to investigate, and conduct case and contact management.

There are now over 600 cases of the B.1.3.5.1 variant reported globally, in 22 countries. There have been six confirmed cases of the variant in Alberta and three cases in B.C.

“Data from South Africa indicates that this variant quickly displaced other circulating lineages in that country,” Dr. Williams said. “It appears to have a higher viral load, which suggest that it may be more transmissible.”

Dr. Williams added that there is still uncertainty around whether or not this variant causes a change in disease severity. He expects that the province will confirm more cases of the B.1.3.5.1 variant.

Ontario has confirmed 69 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, initially detected in the U.K. Most of the cases are in the southern Ontario region and many are in the Simcoe-Muskoka area, related to the outbreak at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont.

Dr. Williams stressed that the protections used to prevent COVID-19 is the same for variants, so this is not the time to be casual about public health measures.

“We’re disappointed that it may already be community spread, of the U.K. variant,” he said. “How bad it is and how quickly it’s going to go, we don’t know yet.”

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, indicated that Ontario is seeing a “steady decrease” in COVID-19 cases at this time, with 1,969 new cases reported on Monday.

There were 21 new outbreaks reported on Monday, down from 28 reported a week earlier, and the seven-day average for outbreaks is down by 35, compared to a week earlier.

“Overall, there is reason for some optimism,” Dr. Yaffe said. “We’re seeing the impacts of this lockdown and the effects of the stay-at-home order as well.”

There are currently 1,158 people with COVID-19 in Ontario’s hospitals, including 354 people in ICUs. Dr. Yaffe said the hope is that those numbers will come down further.

When asked about whether or not Ontario’s lockdown will come to an end next week, Dr. Williams said the province wants to make sure that it doesn’t open up and cases jump up quickly.

“We want to make sure, if we’re going to make recommendations,...we don’t want to open up and then just crash and load up again,” he said.

“We’re encouraged by the data right now, we’re encouraged that maybe our stay-at-home direction and our measures are holding the U.K. variant and maybe some of these other variants at bay.”

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