Travellers arriving in Alberta from UK ‘should immediately get tested for COVID-19’

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: WHO says new virus strain from U.K. being studied' Coronavirus: WHO says new virus strain from U.K. being studied
WATCH: World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said Monday the new strain of the novel coronavirus from the U.K., which was first reported to the WHO on Dec. 14, is being studied in labs, which are looking for three different things with this version of the virus: transmission, severity of illness and the body’s antibody response following infection. She added studies are ongoing regarding this new variant – Dec 21, 2020

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.

Read more: U.K. to hold emergency meeting over new coronavirus mutations, travel restrictions

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.

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“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.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: UK facing travel bans to limit spread of ​variant' COVID-19: UK facing travel bans to limit spread of ​variant
COVID-19: UK facing travel bans to limit spread of ​variant – Dec 20, 2020

The federal government stopped all flights to Canada from the U.K. effective midnight on Dec. 20 for 72 hours.

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The policy applies to all commercial and private passenger flights.

Read more: Canada to suspend all flights from U.K. for 72 hours as new coronavirus variant spreads

“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.

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“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.”

Read more: ‘Good news’: Coronavirus vaccine will still protect against new U.K. variant, WHO says

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.

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COVID-19 travel pilot program to reduce 2-week quarantine time being tested in Alberta – Oct 22, 2020

“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.

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“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.”

READ MORE: Several European countries ban travel from U.K. as new coronavirus strain spreads

The new variant of the novel coronavirus has been spreading quickly across the United Kingdom, prompting travel bans from several European countries on Sunday.

It was first reported by the British government in London on Monday, inciting tighter lockdown restrictions throughout the city.

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.

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“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.”

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