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Covid-19 variant from Brazil has taken hold in Canada

People wearing protective face masks, goggles and Tyvek suits, who said they traveled from Colombia wait for a car rental company shuttle, after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Beginning January 7, air travelers arriving in Canada will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding the plane. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP) (HT_PRINT)Premium
People wearing protective face masks, goggles and Tyvek suits, who said they traveled from Colombia wait for a car rental company shuttle, after arriving at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Beginning January 7, air travelers arriving in Canada will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding the plane. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP) (HT_PRINT)
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  • The province of British Columbia is struggling to contain the variant, which is more contagious and is sending younger patients to hospitals

Canada’s West Coast province of British Columbia is struggling to contain the spread of a highly contagious coronavirus variant that originated in Brazil, and epidemiologists say the country’s relatively slow vaccination rollout could leave it vulnerable to a wider spread.

The spread of the so-called P.1 Covid-19 variant has forced the closure of the popular Whistler Blackcomb ski resort north of Vancouver, and the growing number of Covid-19 cases temporarily benched the city’s National Hockey League team, the Vancouver Canucks. Over the past month, 737 cases of P.1 have been identified in British Columbia, according to the province. Of those infected people, 215 remain ill.

“Obviously, we’re concerned," said Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister, on Monday. It is likely that the province is doing more testing for the variants than other jurisdictions—including Brazil—which could help explain its relatively high P.1 case counts, he said.

Canada, which is vaccinating people at a slower pace than the U.S., the U.K. and Israel, could suffer a worsening situation nationwide.

“All of [the models] say that the growth of these variants is too fast relative to the vaccine rollout," said Sarah Otto, a professor in the University of British Columbia’s zoology department.

About 15% of Canadians have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to Oxford University’s Our World In Data, compared with 47% in the U.K. and 32% in the U.S.

The P.1 coronavirus variant is a strain of the virus that appears to be more contagious and better able to reinfect people, according to researchers and doctors, and some medical professionals in Brazil fear it could be deadlier.

The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the U.K., also is associated with a higher risk of mortality than earlier forms of Covid-19 and is responsible for the vast majority of confirmed variant cases across Canada.

Daniel Coombs, a mathematics professor with expertise in epidemic modeling at the University of British Columbia, said the P.1 variant has grown quickly in the province. Although the U.K. variant is still more prevalent in British Columbia, he said, “I believe that there’s going to be kind of a race between [the U.K. variant] and P.1 over the next few weeks," he said. “And P.1 appears to be catching up."

The Canadian province, which shares a 1,350-mile border with the U.S., has become one of the biggest P.1 hot spots outside of Brazil, where the variant has led to increasing infections among young people and more deaths.

Other Canadian provinces have reported smaller numbers of the P.1 variant. As of Monday, Ontario had confirmed a total of 103 cases of the P.1 variant. Alberta, which shares a border with British Columbia, had reported 15 cases of the Brazilian variant, and Quebec had reported two.

On Tuesday, Toronto, Canada’s largest city, ordered all elementary and secondary schools to move to remote learning, in response to the rising risks posed by the variants.

In the U.S. overall, officials have reported 289 cases of the P.1 variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida has recorded the highest number of P.1 cases, with 64, according to the CDC, followed by Illinois with 59 cases and Massachusetts with 58.

In British Columbia, the Covid-19 outbreak hit the Vancouver Canucks NHL team.

According to the league, 16 players on the 26-person roster have either tested positive or have been in close contact with an infected person, although it was unclear how many had caught the P.1 variant. The team has postponed games until at least Thursday.

British Columbia last week closed restaurants for indoor dining, and halted indoor group-fitness activities and religious services until April 19, to control the virus.

Last week, the province’s health officer, Bonnie Henry, announced the closure of the Whistler ski resort, one of North America’s largest, as part of the lockdown. The local health authority had been testing people in the community and contact tracing, according to Dr. Henry.

The Brazil variant has spread to other parts of the province from the resort, she said.

“What we’re finding is there’s small chains of transmission in multiple areas that aren’t linked. So it is community spread," she said recently.

Other Canadian jurisdictions have also tightened restrictions over the past week. Ontario closed indoor and patio dining, and Toronto Public Health announced Tuesday that schools across the city, which is Canada’s largest, would close for in-person learning beginning on Wednesday.

The province of Alberta on Monday reported two outbreaks involving the P.1 variant, including one that appeared to be linked to a large employer with multiple sites in Western Canada. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, posted on her Twitter account that the outbreak began with a traveler who had returned to Alberta from outside the province. She didn’t say whether the person had been in British Columbia.

Dr. Hinshaw said three of the 26 known Covid-19 cases in that outbreak were confirmed to involve the P.1 variant, “but this will likely increase as more results come in."


This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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