The first case of a new, highly-mutated variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected for the first time in Canada, British Columbia health officials said on Tuesday.
The variant, dubbed BA.2.86, was confirmed in the Fraser Health region, and involves a person who had not travelled outside the province, according to a joint statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“So far, there does not seem to be increased severity with this strain of COVID and the individual is not hospitalized,” the statement reads.
The new variant was first detected in Denmark in July, and has since been confirmed in several countries including the United States.
The World Health Organization has classified BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring” due to the presence of a large number of mutations.
The agency described variants under monitoring as those that show early signs of a “growth advantage” compared to more dominant circulating variants, and which require further evidence of their possible impact.
“It was not unexpected for BA.2.86 to show up in Canada and the province. The risk to people in B.C. has not changed. COVID-19 continues to spread globally, and the virus continues to adapt,” the statement from B.C. health officials added.
“Reducing transmission and having high levels of protection through vaccination continue to be our best defence against all variants of COVID-19. People who are vaccinated are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 or require hospitalization.”
The province said the detection of the variant reflects its COVID-19 surveillance efforts, including continued testing and new wastewater surveillance.
It added that wastewater surveillance had yet to detect any other cases of the variant in B.C. so far, with thestill being the most common in the province.
The province’s latest wastewater data, covering Aug. 13 to Aug. 19, showed COVID-19 viral loads decreasing in Metro Vancouver wastewater plants, while holding flat or increasing slightly in the interior and Vancouver Island plants.
As of Aug. 3, there were 76 people in hospital with COVID-19 in B.C., down from more than 300 at the end of April.
The B.C. government is aiming to roll out its next immunization campaign in September or October, using a monovalent vaccine designed to target the XBB 1.5 variant.
The National Advisory Council on Immunization has recommended a fall booster shot, particularly for those over the age of 65, who live in long-term care homes, who are pregnant, or who are at high risk from other underlying medical conditions.
Some health experts have warned that Canada may be at the start of a new wave of COVID-19, following months of low transmission of the virus.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is also tracking the spread of BA.2.286.
-With files from Sean Boynton, Aaron D’Andrea and Elizabeth McSheffrey
- 13 screen-free gift ideas to keep kids happy and entertained over the holidays
- ‘Heartbreaking’: A Canadian family’s fight to improve Alzheimer’s research for women
- Grab your tissues: Canada’s flu season has officially begun, officials say
- Air pollution in Sarnia-area linked to increased cancer risk: health review