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SFU researchers warn COVID-19 U.K. variant could lead to ‘massive virus spread’ in B.C.

Click to play video: 'Growing concerns over highly transmittable coronavirus variants in B.C.' Growing concerns over highly transmittable coronavirus variants in B.C.
With confirmed cases of two, more-transmissible coronvirus variants now in B.C., there is a growing level of concern those strains could lead to another rapid spike in case numbers. Aaron McArthur reports – Jan 25, 2021

Epidemiologists at Simon Fraser University are warning a huge spike of COVID-19 cases could be coming to British Columbia if the U.K. variant of the virus is established here.

In a report released on Monday, Elisha Are and Caroline Colijn looked at the exponential growth of the virus linked to the strain. The B117 strain has been confirmed in six COVID-19 cases in British Columbia. The province has also reported three cases of the South African variant, B1351.

The U.K. variant is believed to be at least 40 per cent more transmissible to the common strain of the virus.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: New evidence shows UK variant may be more deadly, Boris Johnson says' Coronavirus: New evidence shows UK variant may be more deadly, Boris Johnson says
Coronavirus: New evidence shows UK variant may be more deadly, Boris Johnson says – Jan 22, 2021

“In most of Canada we have been able to control COVID-19 — at least, the variant(s) we have today — albeit with strong distancing measures,” the report reads.

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“But a variant with a 40+ per cent increase in transmission rate (or similar increase in [reproductive]) likely would not be contained with measures we have in place today.”

The researchers designed a model to project what spread of the variant would look like under the current COVID-19 controls. The data shows by the mid-March more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

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In this modelling, the control measures currently in place continue indefinitely. The researchers acknowledge that is not realistic but does serve to illustrate the impact of a higher-transmission variant even if we keep doing the things we are currently doing.

Click to play video: 'The variant strain of COVID-19 first discovered in the UK is detected in B.C.' The variant strain of COVID-19 first discovered in the UK is detected in B.C.
The variant strain of COVID-19 first discovered in the UK is detected in B.C – Dec 27, 2020

“The punch line is that failure to prevent or contain this now spells disaster in March,” the report reads.

“While we don’t see much impact for ~six weeks, when it comes it comes steeply, with a doubling time of one to two weeks, compared to doubling times like 30 to 40 days recently in provinces like Ontario. Exponential growth is fast – when you’re halfway to the maximum capacity you can tolerate (in hospitalization, ICU, contact tracing capacity, or wherever the bottlenecks are), you only have one doubling time left.”

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The researchers are calling on both federal and provincial government to put in tighter measures to prevent the new variant from getting a hold in the country. This would include tighter rules on travel as well as define essential travel and stop non-essential travel.

Read more: Justin Trudeau mulls mandatory hotel quarantine for returning travellers

The pair is also suggesting the federal government should step up quarantine and isolation of travellers and improve detection of the virus for those arriving in Canada.

Scientists around the world believe the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the UK variant.

“If and when we find out that COVID-19 vaccines can impact transmission — and we think it is likely that they will — we could use vaccination as one of the tools in the transmission toolkit, for example by vaccinating truckers who need to cross the Canada/US border,” the report reads.

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