Today, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced the first two confirmed cases in Ontario of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the UK. This variant has now been detected in multiple countries beyond the UK, including Denmark, Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands. With inbound international travel, it is not unexpected to have identified the new variant in Ontario. Ontario is the first province to identify this variant thanks to the proactive work of the Public Health Ontario Laboratory.
The cases are a couple from Durham with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts. Both individuals have been informed and are now in self-isolation as per public health protocols.
“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,” said Dr. Yaffe. “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.”
Modelling and epidemiological studies suggest that the COVID-19 variant first identified in the UK can spread easier and faster, but there is no evidence that it is more likely to cause severe illness. There is no evidence to suggest that the Health Canada-approved vaccines will be any less effective against the new variant.
Recognizing the potential increased risk that inbound international travelers may pose with this new variant, the province continues to call on the federal government to urgently partner with Ontario to implement testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Regardless of whether federal support is forthcoming, the Ontario government is prepared to act on its own to implement an airport testing program.
Effective December 26 at 12:01 a.m. Ontario has entered a provincewide shutdown. These time-limited measures will help slow the transmission of COVID-19, limit mobility, preserve health system capacity, and save lives.
The Ministry of Health continues to be in constant contact with the Public Health Agency of Canada and other jurisdictions to monitor the developing situation and ensure coordinated, effective and shared efforts to protect and safeguard the public.