Ontario confirms Canada’s 1st known cases of U.K. coronavirus variant

Click to play video: 'Ontario’s lockdown kicks in as UK COVID-19 variant arrives in Canada'
Ontario’s lockdown kicks in as UK COVID-19 variant arrives in Canada
WATCH: Ontario's lockdown kicks in as UK COVID-19 variant arrives in Canada – Dec 26, 2020

Ontario has confirmed Canada’s first known cases of the U.K. coronavirus variant.

The province’s associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe made the announcement in a news release Saturday.

Officials on Saturday said the cases involved a couple from Durham Region with no known travel history, exposure, or high-risk contacts. Both are now in self-isolation.

However, in another update Sunday, the province said an investigation revealed that the couple were in fact in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K., which was not revealed in previous interviews.

“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures,” Yaffe said.

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“Durham Region Health Department has conducted case and contact investigation and Ontario is working in collaboration with our federal counterparts at the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

The virus variant has already been found in many countries beyond the U.K., including the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Australia, officials said.

The variant is believed to be more contagious, but it is not believed to cause more severe illness or resistance to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, officials said.

WATCH: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday said the new coronavirus variant is quickly spreading, but there’s currently no evidence that suggests this strain is deadlier

“With inbound international travel, it is not unexpected to have identified the new variant in Ontario,” government officials said in a news release.

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Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, said if this variant increases the transmission of COVID-19 by only 10 per cent, it could make control of the pandemic “even more challenging.”

“We all need to take the lockdown in the province extremely seriously,” he said.

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Health Canada said in a statement the Canadian and global medical communities are actively evaluating the mutations.

The agency said other cases of the variant and other variants “of concern” may be found in Canada.

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Canada suspended flights from the U.K. on December 20 for 72 hours due to concerns over the new variant and has since extended the suspension to January 6 at 11:59 p.m.

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Travellers are now asked “additional health screening questions” to see if they had visited a country that has reported the variant, according to Health Canada.

All travellers arriving in Canada must quarantine for 14 days.

Ontario has also reiterated calls for the federal government to implement testing at Pearson Airport to tighten air travel monitoring.

“Regardless of whether federal support is forthcoming, the Ontario government is prepared to act on its own to implement an airport testing program,” officials said.

Cases across Canada

Ontario has reported over 2,000 cases for 12 days in a row, including 2,142 cases Saturday and 2,159 on Friday. The province also announced 81 deaths in the past two days.

Ontario has begun a provincewide lockdown that will last up to 28 days for southern Ontario and 14 days for northern Ontario.

The lockdown means only essential stores are open for walk-ins, while all others must either do delivery, drive-through or curbside pickup.

Quebec also instituted a province-wide lockdown on Friday that will go on until Jan. 11.

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No other province but New Brunswick reported coronavirus case numbers on Saturday. The maritime province reported two new cases Saturday, both of which are related to travel.

The province also reported an exposure risk in three recent flights with at least one COVID-19 positive case on board.

Canada now has 539,120 cases total and 14,800 deaths.

There have been 80.2 million cases of COVID-19 globally and 1.7 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

-With files from Canadian Press

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