A University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist and medical doctor said the province needs tougher public health guidelines, and to forge ahead with vaccinations, to stop the spread and save lives.
“The time to act with more restrictions was weeks ago, if not months ago,” Dr. Cory Neudorf said.
Neudorf told Global News the detection of the P.1 variant is unfortunate but not unexpected, given how it is ravaging neighbouring provinces.
He said the strain, which is “somewhere between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half times easier to transmit” than the original COVID-19 strain, could add to the burden of a healthcare system already struggling with other extra-contagious variants.
51 people across the province were receiving intensive care on the day the provincial government announced it had detected five cases in the province’s southwest.
That’s the highest number of people ever in the province’s ICUs, and Neudorf said the variant could make things even worse.
“If it’s able to gain a foothold and spread, then yes, it will also contribute to more hospitalizations and ICU admissions.”
Neudorf cautioned the data on the P.1 strain is still emerging, but said the variant appears capable of infecting people who already caught the original strain of COVID-19.
And vaccines seem to have less effect in preventing infections, though they still prevent hospitalization and death.
“It just is one more threat to us,” he said.
“In this race between variants and vaccines, the variants still have the upper hand.”
Variants, especially the B.1.1.7 strain first discovered in the U.K., are already the source of most infections in Regina and Saskatoon.
The Queen’s City is currently under the strictest restrictions in the province, with the province implementing banning indoor dining, recommending people work from home and has issued a travel advisory.
Saskatoon’s director of emergency management, Pamela Goulden-McLeod told Global News her biggest worry “is the variants of concern and them taking over.”
“At this point, they are the (cause of the) majority of the cases being seen in Saskatoon.”
The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s Chief Medical Officer said current measures weren’t doing enough to stop the variants already in Saskatchewan.
“I think that’s what the variants are teaching us, that with the public measures that we had in place through winter and early spring, the variants were able to break through and continue to transmit,” Dr. Susan Shaw said.
Neudorf said the government should extend the restrictions in place in Regina to the rest of the province – though he said there might be a need to tighten those even further.
He stressed the physically distancing is even more crucial now than it was before because the new strains are so contagious.
“There’s far more temptation to encroach on the two metre space because we’ve got masks on and we’re just tired of (the pandemic).”
“Those are the very conditions that help these variants spread much more readily and quickly.”
He also said vaccinations are the best way to stop the spread and save lives.
“As soon as a vaccine, any vaccine, is made available to you… go out and get it and encourage your friends and family to do the same.”