Ontario confirms first case of South African COVID-19 variant

Ontario has reported its first case of a COVID-19 variant that emerged in South Africa, with the province’s top doctor saying more such infections are expected to be found in the future.



Ontario has reported its first case of a COVID-19 variant that emerged in South Africa, with the province’s top doctor saying more such infections are expected to be found in the future.

Dr. David Williams said Monday that the South African variant was found in Peel Region in a person who had neither travelled nor had any known contact with anyone who travelled.

“This is our first South African one. I would doubt if it’s going to be our last,” he said.

Williams said data from South Africa shows the variant has a higher viral load, meaning it may be more infectious.

A small number of cases have already been confirmed in other Canadian provinces, including Alberta and British Columbia.

The South African variant one of three “variants of concern” that Public Health Ontario is ramping up screening for in the province.

Officials have already confirmed dozens of cases of the U.K. variant in the province since it was first detected in December.

Health and science experts advising the province have said the spread of that variant poses a significant threat to Ontario’s control of the pandemic.

Earlier on Monday, York Region, north of Toronto, confirmed it had recorded 39 total cases of the U.K. variant of COVID-19.

While the majority are now resolved, the municipality said there are 24 households associated with the cases, and 10 were spread through “local transmission.”

“We are very concerned about the U.K. variant in circulation within York Region; it is important to curb this COVID-19 variant spread as quickly as we can,” communications director Patrick Casey said in a statement.

Toronto Public Health reported Monday that it had linked two U.K. variant cases to an outbreak at a meat processing facility that has infected 78 people.

“At this time, there is no indication that any cases identified in the outbreak had recently travelled or had contact with a person who travelled recently,” the health unit said in a statement.

It said Belmont Meats voluntarily closed on Jan. 28 amid the public health investigation.

As of Sunday, Public Health Ontario had confirmed 69 total cases of the U.K. variant in the province, though regional officials have said they believe the number is likely much higher.

The new variant cases reported Monday case as Ontario began making all international travellers flying into Toronto take a COVID-19 tests on arrival.

The program is similar to a federal plan set to be implemented in the near future. Premier Doug Ford said Ontario would conduct its own traveller testing until Ottawa’s program kicked in.

The testing order that took effect at the Toronto airport Monday will eventually apply to the province’s land border crossings to the United States.

Evan Rachkovsky, a spokesman for the Canadian Snowbird Association that represents about 110,000 people, said his group supports mandatory COVID-19 tests but is concerned about the fine print in the federal government’s stricter rules.

“We are absolutely supportive of the provinces and the federal government implementing testing at land borders and at airports,” Rachkovsky said in a phone interview.

He said many of the more than 30,000 group members currently abroad are anxious for more details of the federal plan — in particular, the group is opposed to the federal program’s rule that travellers must pay for a stay at an approved hotel while waiting on COVID-19 test results.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the on-arrival testing and hotel stay could cost each traveller more than $2,000.

NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said point-of-entry testing is just part of the picture and accused Ford of “diverting people’s attention to the airport” rather than taking concrete steps to control the pandemic inside Ontario.

“I think anything that prevents COVID-19 from entering Ontario needs to be considered but let’s face it, Doug Ford needs to pay attention to stopping the spread within Ontario,” Horwath said.

Ontario reported 1,969 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 36 more deaths linked to the virus.

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of Health said that as Toronto migrates to the provincial data system, additional records were reported for the local public health unit, resulting in an overestimate of Monday’s daily counts.

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