The Alberta government is “strongly encouraging” all travellers who arrived from the United Kingdom within the past 14 days to immediately book a COVID-19 test.
In a news release Monday, the province said testing should be done whether or not individuals have symptoms.
Travellers will be contacted directly by Alberta Health Services to book a test.
People who travelled from the U.K. who are taking part in the border pilot must immediately quarantine, whether or not they’ve had a negative test result.
“A variant of COVID-19 has been identified in the United Kingdom with mutations that may cause increased infectivity,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“No variants with all the same mutations have been identified in Canada to date. Changes in a virus are to be expected, and there is no current evidence that this variant causes more severe disease.
“Alberta’s current public health measures are effective against it, but we are acting out of an abundance of caution.
“At this time, the variant does not appear to cause more severe symptoms,” Alberta’s top doctor added. “It does not impact how the body responds, the lab testing performance or the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The testing that’s done in Alberta involves some genetic analysis of a sample of the viruses that are detected, and that’s true across the country. There’s always a small possibility that there could have been an introduction, but we haven’t seen any evidence that that particular combination of mutations has been introduced into not just Alberta, but into Canada.”
Hinshaw explained evidence seems to indicate this variant can more easily spread from person to person.
“While this is not fully confirmed, there is sufficient evidence to prompt action on this development,” she said.
The federal government stopped all flights to Canada from the U.K. effective midnight on Dec. 20 for 72 hours.
The policy applies to all commercial and private passenger flights.
“The nature of this pandemic requires us to be nimble and adapt to the evolving situation to ensure the health and safety of Albertans,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.
“Alberta Health Services will be reaching out to all recent travellers from the United Kingdom to book a test. Also, if you are currently participating in the border pilot, you must immediately quarantine.”
Health rules remain in place for international travel.
All non-exempt travellers returning to or entering Alberta from outside Canada are legally required to follow provincial and federal restrictions when they arrive.
Travellers must quarantine for 14 days, monitor for symptoms and get tested if any symptom develops.
“Due to the new federal restrictions on incoming flights from the United Kingdom, if you have been in the United Kingdom and are currently participating in the border pilot, you must now quarantine until 14 days have passed from your arrival,” the Alberta government said in a news release.
“If you are just arriving in Alberta and have been in the United Kingdom in the last 14 days, you must quarantine and cannot participate in the border pilot.”
At this time, Alberta is not considering stopping the pilot entirely.
“Right now this is a precautionary measure, as we look to understand more about this variant and what it means,” Hinshaw said.
“In this particular case, there is some evidence — enough that we think we need to be cautious — but we do need to wait for more evidence to be available before making final decisions.”
The new variant of the novel coronavirus has been spreading quickly across the United Kingdom, prompting travel bans from several European countries on Sunday.
Hinshaw said the Public Health Agency of Canada is monitoring the situation and the science and working with international partners, including the WHO, to better understand the variant.
“This new strain is yet another reminder that we cannot let our guard down with COVID-19. This is a challenging and evolving virus.
“We have been working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to be able to identify those who’ve come into the country and ended up in Alberta, who spent time in the U.K., whether or not that was where they flew from.
“We’re working with them to try to identify what records they have and to be able to contact all those who’ve been in the U.K. within the last 14 days.”