The Quebec government announced on Friday that it intends to monitor the disquieting spread of COVID-19 variants by launching a scientific initiative aimed at sequencing 65,000 samples of the virus.
Health Minister Christian Dubé and Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon announced they will provide $11 million in funding to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) to complete the examination by the end of the year.
The objective is to identify genetic variants of the virus, determine their impact on the transmission and severity of the illness and establish how to best respond to those variants with vaccines.
Potentially more transmittable strains of variants have been detected in Great Britain, South Africa and Brazil. The new strains are spreading and the provincial government believes it important to intensify its monitoring to keep the outbreak from spreading further in Quebec.
Thus far, six cases of the British variant have been confirmed in the province.
Surveillance of variants has been in effect in Quebec since April 2020 thanks to a project by Genome Canada. About 7,000 positive samples have been sequenced in the province, about 3 per cent of the total under study.
The Quebec program will make it possible to identify these variants more quickly by increasing the rate at which positive samples are sequenced. The objective is to sequence 10 per cent of the samples, thus ensuring a more rapid detection of the new strains.
The INSPQ will manage the project along with the Fonds de recherche du Québec and Génome Québec. The McGill Genome Centre, the National Microbiology Laboratory of Canada and many other research centres will collaborate on the project.