The Durham Region couple who became Ontario’s first cases of the fast-spreading U.K. COVID-19 variant are now under “active investigation,” the local public health agency confirmed to Global News on Tuesday.
The two unnamed individuals from the region were identified on Dec. 26, 2020, as the first two cases in Canada of the new coronavirus strain initially identified in the U.K.
Evidence suggests the new variant is more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus.
The Durham Region Health Department said the couple was in self-isolation when the positive tests were identified and at the time said they had no exposure via travel or high-risk contacts.
A few days later, however, Public Health Ontario said further investigation revealed the couple had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K.
Under the provisions of the section 22 class order issued by Durham’s medical officer of health Dr. Robert Kyle last year, individuals who test positive are compelled to disclose information about their recent contacts. Failure to do so could be considered an offence under the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act.
The Durham health department also wouldn’t say whether coworkers of the couple had been notified about the cases or provide details about the extent of contact tracing efforts currently underway.
There have now been 14 total cases of the U.K. variant identified in Ontario, with the provincial health unit identifying eight more cases on Tuesday.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate medical officer of health, said Tuesday that five of the new cases have a link to travel, while the source of infection for the remaining three are currently unknown.
If no travel link is discovered, that’s evidence of community transmission of the U.K. variant in Ontario, which Yaffe called a “serious concern.”
She said that Public Health Ontario is continuing its interviews with the affected patients and noted that some people might avoid disclosing information about a recent trip for fear of reprisal.
“I think it’s important for people to understand how important it is to be open about a recent travel, even though they think that might get them into some trouble. Of course, it would not.”
Yaffe also said it is “very likely” there are other cases of the U.K. variant in the province that have not yet been detected.
— with files from Global News’s Aaron Streck