Dr. Theresa Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada was “still looking,” and will be conducting more testing and genomic sequencing on known cases of the strain in the coming days.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that this variant is in many different countries,” she said, adding that “it may become one of the more common strains.”
In all probability, Tam said the new strain will likely eventually make its way to Canada, however there are several variables that are helping slow it down.
Geographically, Canada and the U.K. are separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and as noted by Bill Blair, “we are one of the few countries in the world that restricts all non-essential travel.” There is also a 14-day quarantine for all travellers entering Canada — with some exemptions — that has been in place since March.
Specifically with regard to Britain, Blair said Canada has closed its borders to all flights coming from the U.K. The 72 hour travel ban has yet to be extended, although Tam has said that officials will be re-evaluating based on the incoming data.
Enhanced screening has been put in place at all Canadian airports and at all points of entry for travellers who may be arriving from the United Kingdom indirectly. In the event someone has entered Canada indirectly, Blair said they are referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada at both land and air ports of entry.
“The vast majority of people who are exempt from the quarantine restrictions are truck drivers, people who are doing the essential work of bringing much needed supplies and goods into our country each and every day,” he said.
“All travellers are also required to provide full contact and quarantine information.”
Blair added that travel accounts for only 1.8 per cent of all COVID-19 cases detected in Canada, with the majority resulting from community transmission.
So far, Tam said the Canadian government has analyzed over 25,000 genomic sequences of the virus looking for lineage of the U.K. variant throughout the country.
However, she noted “Canada remains on a trajectory for an even stronger resurgence over the next two months, and this is a perilous time.”
The U.K. variant, has been transmitting mainly in London and the southeast of England since it was first announced by the British government on Dec. 14. There is no current evidence to suggest it causes more severe illness than its predecessor.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday the strain could be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the current variant, leading a slew of countries including Canada, France, Germany and Italy to enact travel bans in an effort to quell the spread of the virus.
World Health Organization officials have said that COVID-19 vaccines should still be effective against the new variant.
BioNtech CEO Ugur Sahin echoed this on Tuesday, saying that it was “highly likely that the immune response by (Pfizer’s) vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”
Sahin vowed “scientific confidence” in the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine’s effectiveness against the new strain, explaining that the U.K. variant’s proteins are 99 per cent identical as the current strains.
Should adjustments need to be made to account for the new variant, he said BioNtech could tweak the vaccine in just six weeks.
— With files from the Associated Press