Ontario has confirmed Canada’s first known cases of the U.K. coronavirus variant.
The province’s associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe made the announcement in a news release Saturday.
Officials said the cases involve a couple from Durham Region with no known travel history, exposure, or high-risk contacts. Both are now in self-isolation.
“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” Yaffe said.
“Durham Region Health Department has conducted case and contact investigation and Ontario is working in collaboration with our federal counterparts at the Public Health Agency of Canada.”
The virus variant has already been found in many countries beyond the U.K., including the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Australia, officials said.
The variant is believed to be more contagious, but it is not believed to cause more severe illness or resistance to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, officials said.
“With inbound international travel, it is not unexpected to have identified the new variant in Ontario,” government officials said in a news release.
Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table, said that since it is a community transmission with no known link to travellers means there is a “high probability” more variant cases are in Ontario.
He said if this variant increases the transmission of COVID-19 by only 10 per cent, it could make control of the pandemic “even more challenging.”
“We all need to take the lockdown in the province extremely seriously,” he said.
Health Canada said in a statement the Canadian and global medical communities are actively evaluating the mutations.
The agency said other cases of the variant and other variants “of concern” may be found in Canada.
Canada suspended flights from the U.K. on December 20 for 72 hours due to concerns over the new variant and has since extended the suspension to January 6 at 11:59 p.m.
Travellers are now asked “additional health screening questions” to see if they had visited a country that has reported the variant, according to Health Canada.
All travellers arriving in Canada must quarantine for 14 days.
Ontario has also reiterated calls for the federal government to implement testing at Pearson Airport to tighten air travel monitoring,
“Regardless of whether federal support is forthcoming, the Ontario government is prepared to act on its own to implement an airport testing program,” officials said.