Public health officials in Quebec City announced the closure of a local elementary school on Saturday after discovering a suspected case of a COVID-19 variant.
Regional Public Health Director Dr. André Dontigny said the case was flagged through preliminary laboratory screening, which can detect mutations that are present in three highly-transmissible variants of the virus.
But Dontigny, speaking at a rare Saturday news conference, told reporters that officials had not yet confirmed the presence of a variant, let alone whether the case in question is linked to any of the three variants of concern that have surfaced so far in Canada. He said that will require a sequencing test, a process that takes at least a week.
“The school will be closed until the public health authority has an overall portrait of the situation,” Dontigny said.
No cases of the three variants have been detected so far in the Quebec City area, according to the province’s National Public Health Institute.
Dontigny said public health plans to test all students and staff at the school for COVID-19 over the weekend. Officials said around 200 tests had been conducted by mid-day Saturday.
All positive tests will then be screened, which give officials a better idea of the situation over the next 48 hours, he said.
“We need to have more information to know what’s going on at this school.”
The fear that the variants — particularly one first detected in the United Kingdom — are more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19 has led public health to take a more aggressive approach, Dontigny said.
“That’s the reason why we are taking all these measures at the moment.”
The Marguerite d’Youville school, which has 283 students and more than 50 staff, was officially closed on Friday evening.
Three classes at the school had already been cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak that has been ongoing since Feb. 9, Dontigny said.
Earlier on Saturday, the public health instituted said it had confirmed seven additional cases of the variant first discovered in the U.K. in the Montreal area.
There have now been 22 confirmed cases of variants of concern in Quebec, including 18 in Montreal. An additional 286 cases detected through screening are under investigation, an increase of 50 from the day before.
Quebec reported 769 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 14 additional deaths linked to the disease, including four within the preceding 24 hours.
–with files from Alessia Maratta, Global News