WINNIPEG — Winnipeg wasn’t the first city in Canada with a COVID-19 patient, but it has been on the frontlines of the fight against the virus from the very beginning.
Winnipeg is home to Canada’s only National Microbiology Lab, where staff has made world-renowned discoveries in the fight against Ebola and Influenza.
“Going back to the lessons from Sars 1, we had always been aware that another pathogenic coronavirus might one day manifest itself,” said Dr. Guillaune Poliquin, the acting Scientific director-general for the lab.
Once it did, in the form of COVID-19 and the genome was published, Poliquin said the lab got right to work.
He said within five days, it was able to develop Canada’s first PCR test – the same type of test people suspected of having COVID-19 still undergo daily across the country.
The lab has continued to refine the testing, finding ways to detect the virus better, faster, and more accurately.
“So what we’re seeing today, what we’re seeing as PCR testing, is essentially descendants of those first-generation tests.”
Today it’s still all hands on deck fighting the virus.
The lab is working on some longer-term projects relating to COVID-19, including a cross-Canadian study on how the virus is mutating over time.
“And that’s really important for a number of reasons,” said Poliquin.
“It tells us how the virus is transmitting within communities, where is it coming from. It tells us how is it changing, and is that important? Is it becoming more virulent, less virulent? Is it becoming more transmissible or not?”
He said it’s also important for vaccine development to ensure the potential vaccine and the virus remain well matched up.
As part of the lab’s efforts to monitor the virus, it’s leading a pilot project studying COVID-19 levels in five Canadian cities’ wastewater.
“What’s really attractive about wastewater is it’s the ultimate pooled sample,” said Poliquin.
“We all generate wastewater throughout the day and that way we’re able to pool all that information together by testing the water. And while that doesn’t necessarily tell you exactly who is sick in a community. It tells you where there is transmission, where there is spread.”
The results from the pilot project are expected to be complete by mid-November, though the lab’s work battling Covid will likely continue much longer.
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