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‘The dominant strain’: 90% of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 variant cases are in Regina

Click to play video: '‘The dominant strain’: 90% of COVID-19 cases in Regina are a variant' ‘The dominant strain’: 90% of COVID-19 cases in Regina are a variant
WATCH: Regina is being flagged as a hot spot for COVID-19 variants of concern among health officials, with some experts calling for additional regional restrictions – Mar 17, 2021

The COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant strain in Regina, says the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a total of 346 COVID-19 variant cases had been detected in Saskatchewan. Of the 136 confirmed, 130 are the B.1.1.7 variant. Of those, 122, or 90 per cent, are located in the Regina area. There are 210 presumptive variant cases, with 186 tied to Regina.

Read more: Health officials warn Regina is a hot spot for contagious coronavirus variants

Provincial officials acknowledged the elevated risks associated with COVID-19 and increased likelihood of transmission in the capital city during a press conference Tuesday. But aside from extending existing public health orders until April 5 and holding the 30-person cap for worship services in the area, they did not introduce additional measures.

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While across Saskatchewan, the seven-day average of new daily cases works out to 11.3 per 100,000 people, in Regina, it’s now 21 per 100,000 people, Shahab said.

The provincial test positivity rate is 5.6. In Regina, it’s 9.1.

“The trend in Regina is the opposite of the rest of Saskatchewan,” Shahab said.

Read more: Rate of COVID-19 variant spread ‘very concerning’ as cases near 3,000

“The bulk of new cases in Regina are variants of concern,” he said. “They have become the dominant strain.”

Early research showed the B.1.1.7 variant to be 70 per cent more transmissible.

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Highly transmissible U.K. COVID-19 variant confirmed in all Canadian provinces – Feb 14, 2021

Mayor speaks out

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said Tuesday that she is receiving multiple updates per day from officials regarding the COVID-19 situation in the city.

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She urged residents not to let down their guard, giving a timeline of at least four weeks.

“As a community, we are facing an unprecedented time, with cases of the COVID variant rising,” she said at city hall. “In our community, we have to take an immediate stand. We have to be better.”

She used strong language while asking people to be extra vigilant with protocols to reduce the spread.

“If you will be in contact  with someone who is 50 years of age or older, do not participate in gatherings outside of your immediate household,” she said, adding:

“Regardless of what has been announced, stick to your household, your immediate family, your household bubble.”

She asked people to wear masks around anyone not in their household bubbles, to wash and sanitize their hands often, to “be careful about going out and shopping” and to stay put.

“With the incidents in the city of Regina, travelling outside of the city of Regina potentially puts other communities at risk,” Masters said.

Click to play video: 'Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina' Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina
Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina – Mar 16, 2021

More measures could come

Although further restrictions were not announced Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said “there are other levers that can potentially be pulled in the weeks ahead, up to and including obviously a more significant lockdown of retail businesses in the community.”

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Moe said he had been in touch with the mayor earlier in the day and thanked her for her leadership.

He added that while the easing of restrictions to allow household bubbles of two to three families and up to 10 people to gather remains, Regina residents, particularly those over the age of 50 who aren’t vaccinated, should consider refraining from that additional social contact.

Read more: Have COVID-19 variants pushed Canada into a third wave of the pandemic?

Vicki Mowat, the Saskatchewan NDP opposition critic for health, slammed the mixed messaging and confusion.

“The government has done the bare minimum while missing opportunities to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Mowat said in a statement.

“The huge explosion in confirmed and suspected variants of concern in Regina has forced the government to urge people in Regina not to do what they were just told they were allowed,” she said.

Read more: Federal model warning of variant-driven COVID-19 spike won’t change B.C.’s approach, officials say

Vaccine accessibility 

The premier and chief medical health officer emphasized Tuesday that vaccinating people in the Regina area has now become a priority.

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“Additional vaccines are pivotting to Regina to increase population-level immunity even more quickly,” Shahab said, adding it will take four to six weeks for the bulk of people over the age of 50 to get their shots.

They noted AstraZeneca doses are being administered at the drive-thru clinic in the city to those over the age of 60 on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Click to play video: 'Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina' Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina
Long lineups greet people at AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine site in Regina – Mar 16, 2021

“The level of vaccines that we have available, we’re getting them into the places in the province where they ultimately need to be,” Moe said.

“We’re asking people to be, in particular, diligent, right now — and doing everything that we can to provide as many vaccines as possible to the people of Saskatchewan and prioritizing those through the phases as well as to areas of the province that require them sooner rather than later and right now that’s Regina,” he said.

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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.

For full COVID-19 coverage, visit the Global News coronavirus web page.

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