COVID-19: Ottawa Public Health confirms 3 cases of B.1.617 variant

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Ottawa Public Health has confirmed the first COVID-19 cases locally with the B.1.617 variant, the strain that has dominated India’s ongoing health crisis.

OPH reported 141 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and two new deaths related to the virus. Active COVID-19 cases dropped to 1,722 in the past 24 hours.

The local health unit has also logged three coronavirus cases of the B.1.617 variant of interest on its COVID-19 dashboard.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said Wednesday that all three cases are linked to travel.

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What we know about the B.1.167 variant

The variant was confirmed after each of the individuals completed quarantines after returning to the country, Etches said. OPH was able to confirm two people who remained in Ottawa complied with the quarantine protocols, but a third individual moved on to the GTA beyond the local health unit’s scope.

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She noted that close contacts of the positive cases also went for swabs but those tests came back negative.

The vast majority of variant cases in Ottawa, 77 per cent, are still flagged as the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the United Kingdom.

Ontario first confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant on April 23, while the strain was identified in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia in the days before that.

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Canada stopped flights from Pakistan and India on April 22 in an attempt to block further spread of the variant.

B.1.617 has become the dominant strain in India, where surging infection rates are devastating the country’s health system, though it’s unclear whether the variant is causing that spike.

Some experts say the B.1.617 strain, signified by a pair of key mutations, has the potential to be both more transmissible and resistant to antibody-based countermeasures such as vaccines, though neither of these concerns has been confirmed.

The World Health Organization and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) both classify B.1.617 as a “variant of interest” rather than a “variant of concern,” meaning it does not necessarily warrant stricter public health measures.

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“At this time, there is insufficient evidence to determine if B.1.617 behaves significantly differently than the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been predominant in Canada during the earlier phases of the pandemic, although evaluations are underway both in Canada and internationally,” a PHAC spokesperson told Global News in a statement last week.

Etches said Wednesday that public health advice remains the same even with the presence of new variants in the city: maintain two metres of distance, wear a mask, wash your hands and spend time outdoors rather than indoors.

“The public health measures that prevent transmission of COVID work for the variants.”

Meanwhile, OPH said the number of Ottawa residents in hospital with COVID-19 dropped below 100 as of Wednesday. There are now 95 residents in hospital with 27 in the intensive care unit, though these figures do not include patients transferred from outside the city.

Ottawa’s weekly coronavirus positivity rate dropped to 6.7 per cent as of Tuesday, down from 7.0 per cent in the previous period.

— With files from Global News’s Saba Aziz

Click to play video: 'Ontario confirms 36 cases of B.1.617 variant from India'
Ontario confirms 36 cases of B.1.617 variant from India

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