New U.K. variant of COVID-19 confirmed in Island Health region

A new, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that has spread across the United Kingdom has been confirmed in B.C., involving a person who lives on Vancouver Island.

It is the province’s first case of a person infected with the U.K. variant.

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The person returned to B.C. on flight AC855 from London on Dec. 15 and developed symptoms while in quarantine, according to a joint statement Sunday from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. The person was immediately tested and the positive diagnosis was confirmed on Dec. 19. A small number of close contacts have been isolating and public health is following up with them daily, the statement said.

The variant strain was detected by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control public health laboratory in its review of all samples from people who had recently returned from the U.K.

“Whole genome sequencing at the BCCDC identified this as the same as the variant seen in the U.K.” Henry and Dix said in the statement. Analysis is ongoing and could identify additional cases in the coming days, the statement said.

The variant, which researchers say is likely more contagious than previous forms of the virus, has caused record numbers of infections in the U.K., accounting for more than 60 per cent of cases in London. It prompted Canada to suspend flights from the U.K. on Dec. 20 until Jan. 6, 2021.

The variant has been confirmed in three people in Ontario — a couple from Durham Region who had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K. and a person in Ottawa who had recently travelled from the U.K.

“B.C. continues to support the Canada-wide travel ban on all flights arriving from the U.K. until Jan. 6, 2021, and urges all British Columbians to continue to avoid all non-essential travel to keep people and communities safe,” Henry and Dix said.

They said there’s no evidence that the new COVID-19 variant is more likely to cause severe illness, nor is there evidence to suggest the Health Canada-approved vaccines will be any less effective against it.

“However, studies suggest the COVID-19 variant first identified in the U.K. can spread more quickly and easily, which is why British Columbians everywhere must continue to be cautious and follow all PHO orders and guidelines, stay close to home, avoid non-essential travel, practice safe, physical distancing and wear a mask when in public indoor spaces,” the statement said.

“All British Columbians have to remember the virus spreads quickly but shows up slowly.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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