COVID-19 variant first seen in U.K. found in Manitoba

A confirmed case of the coronavirus variant first seen in the U.K. has been discovered in Manitoba, the province’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced on Tuesday.

The case is related to international travel and the person has since recovered, but Roussin says there’s no evidence to show there’s transmission of the variant within Manitoba.

“This further illustrates why we have our travel restrictions in place to protect the introduction into the community of these type of variants,” he said.

Five household contacts are self-isolating, but none of them have tested positive for the virus.

Roussin says the person’s original COVID-19 test was sent to the National Microbiology Lab for sequencing and the results came back Monday evening.

“Of course, this is not unexpected,” Roussin said. “We see this variant in our country and internationally and we have set up our protocols for just this type of scenario.”

Additional rules will be in place for cases involving coronavirus variants of concern. The province won’t accept isolation in the home, extended isolation periods for close contacts of confirmed cases that could last 24 days.

Roussin says there will be additional rules in place for cases involving concerning coronavirus variants, such as requiring household contacts to isolate for an extended period of time outside the home. 

For example, if the person with a confirmed case involving a concerning variant isolated at home upon symptom onset or return from travel, any household members would have to isolate outside the home for an additional 14 days after the last potential exposure to the confirmed case. 

Public health officials anticipate seeing other variants of concern in Manitoba, said Roussin.

“We’ve upped our screening for variants and will continue to up that moving forward. We just need to do whatever we can to delay this introduction of these variants into the community,” he said.

The announcement of the variant’s presence in Manitoba was made while Roussin and Premier Brian Pallister announced the loosening of public health orders. Museums, indoor rinks, restaurants, gyms and places of worship will be able to reopen with limited capacity on Friday.

“Because things are controlled, because of the restrictions we have in place and protocols, we’re still OK to proceed with our reopening plans,” said Roussin. “But it’s also a reminder that we’re not out of the woods, that we need to be cautious moving forward.”

Variant more contagious

Scientists say the variant present in Manitoba, which is called the B117 variant, is at least 30 per cent more transmissible.

That same variant is being blamed for an outbreak at a personal care home north of Toronto.

In a news release on Saturday, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) said the testing done on Friday has determined that six samples taken from the Roberta Place Long Term Care Home are of that strain.

The health unit said at the time the development is of great concern.

Pallister closed the news conference with a note of hope, but urged Manitobans to be extra careful.

“[It’s] a day to remind one another that we need to be cautious and careful.”