Manitoba health officials say three more confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., have been identified in the province.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy public health officer, announced the cases — bringing the total number of cases of the more-contagious variant confirmed in Manitoba to four — along with 92 new infections and two additional deaths Friday.
The newly confirmed cases of the U.K. variant are separate, connected to international travel, and all three have since recovered, Atwal said.
Atwal did not reveal the location of the new variant cases, and would only say they are not in First Nations communities.
While Atwal said the latest cases have contacts ranging from between four and 24 people, there is not evidence the variant is spreading.
“This is not an unexpected development,” he told reporters, adding the contacts are all being monitored.
“We are anticipating variant of concern cases in Manitoba and we are prepared for this … there is no cause for immediate public concern.
“However that does not be we can become complacent with our actions, these cases serve as a reminder to continue to follow the public health orders, advice, and messaging.”
Based on the evidence so far, researchers believe the B.1.1.7 lineage that was first discovered in the United Kingdom is up to 70 per cent more contagious than other variants. It is not yet clear, however, if it causes more severe illness or is more lethal.
The first confirmed case of the U.K. variant in Manitoba was reported Feb. 9, the same day the province announced its latest round of loosened public health orders.
The case was related to international travel from Europe, and was only identified after the individual had already recovered from the virus.
None of the individuals’ household contacts ended up with positive test results, officials said at the time.
Federal and provincial health officials have warned B.1.1.7 could soon become the dominant strain and complicate any intentions or efforts to gradually reopen the economy again.
Atwal said Manitobans should not be alarmed about the new cases involving B.1.1.7.
“Our case and contact management is aggressive with this,” he said.
“We’re really going after the case. We’re really going after those contacts and making sure that they are self-isolating properly.”
Manitoba also recently tightened its travel rules. People entering the province from anywhere else must self-isolate, with some exceptions that include truckers, aircrews and medical workers.
One death removed from list
The virus’s latest victims in Manitoba, a man in his 80s from the Winnipeg Health region and a woman in her 90s connected to an outbreak at Golden Links Lodge in Winnipeg, bring the province’s COVID-19 death toll to 879 after a previously announced death from the virus was removed from the list.
Atwal said health officials have since determined the death, a man in 70s from the Interlake-Eastern Health region announced Dec. 11, was not related to COVID-19.
The latest list of infections include 35 cases in the Winnipeg Health region, two cases in the Southern Health region, three cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 50 cases in the Northern Health region, and two cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health region.
Since last March Manitoba has recorded 31,235 infections of COVID-19 after Atwal said two previously announced cases were removed due to a data correction.
He said 1,169 of those cases remained active as of Friday morning.
Hospitalization rates continued to drop Friday, with 213 patients reported to be in hospital as a result of COVID-19, down from 224 on Thursday.
The number patients in critical care due to the virus remained at 27 Friday, the same as were reported Thursday.
The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 5.7 per cent provincially and 4.2 per cent in Winnipeg.
Laboratory testing numbers show 2,389 tests were completed Thursday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February 2020 to 508,900.
On Thursday health officials announced 139 new COVID-19 infections, the highest new daily case count reported since late-January.
While case numbers have been dropping in most areas of Manitoba, some northern communities have seen a sharp increase.
Cross Lake First Nation officials posted a bulletin on the community’s website that said three community events in early February — a wake, a funeral and a birthday party — led to 54 infections in the following days.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs urged people Friday to stay safe and follow COVID-19 guidelines.
“That’s what our numbers are showing us, is that the threat is still very real for us and in some cases it’s increasing,” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said.
–With files from Skylar Peters and Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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