B.C. becomes 2nd province to identify South African COVID-19 variant

British Columbia health officials have detected what appears to be the second case of the new South African variant of COVID-19 in the country.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that the case, which turned up in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, was a person not known to have travelled or to have had contact with someone who had travelled.

Read more: Officials confirm Canada’s 1st case of South African variant of COVID-19 detected in Alberta

An investigation was underway to determine how the person contracted it, she said.

Canada’s first case of the variant was revealed last week in Alberta, and the Public Health Agency of Canada said as of Wednesday there were no other known cases.

Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, told Global News last week much remains unknown about the variant.

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But he said it appears easier to spread, and, fortunately, appears not to be immune to the Pfizer vaccine.

Speaking to media Thursday, Henry said it was “concerning” that the province did not know how the patient contracted the variant, but that she was “confident” they had not spread it to anyone else.

Henry added that based on screening of COVID-19 samples in the province, officials do not believe either the South African variant or the U.K. variant — of which B.C. has now recorded four cases — are circulating widely.

Read more: B.C. reports 536 new COVID-19 cases and 7 deaths, as U.K., South African variants detected

“Right now we don’t believe that either of those variants are causing a lot of spread of illness in our communities — yet — but we are not by any means out of the woods,” she said.

“So it may be that we’re in a very similar place that we were in February of last year where we have importations, and if we can find them and catch them early we can prevent that variant from spreading.”

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The province has been doing random samples of about five per cent of positive COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic, Henry said, with a particular focus on areas with outbreaks or unusual transmission patterns.

She said with concern about the new variants, the province was looking at new ways to do screening, including testing wastewater.

In the interim, she said residents should continue to focus on stopping the spread through measures that have proven effective, such as social distancing, hand hygiene, handwashing and wearing masks.

Read more: COVID-19 variant found in South Africa might be a problem for vaccines, experts warn

“The one thing we know about these variants is that … they still spread from person to person in the same way,” she said.

“The things we do to stop the spread work. So that’s why we’re so focused on the things that we need to do now.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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