Health officials identified a U.K. variant of COVID-19 at a long-term care home reeling from a deadly outbreak in Barrie, Ont., Saturday amid a slightly lower daily virus case count.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said genome sequencing on six COVID-19 samples from Roberta Place Retirement Lodge have been identified as the highly contagious variant.
Officials with the local health unit announced earlier this week that they had found a variant at the home north of Toronto and were conducting tests to determine what it was. A news release said as of Friday, 124 of 127 residents, as well as 84 staff, were positive for the virus, resulting in 29 deaths.
“The rapid spread, high attack rate and the devastating impact on residents and staff at Roberta Place long-term care home has been heartbreaking for all,” Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said in a statement Saturday.
“Confirmation of the variant, while expected, does not change our course of action. We remain diligent in doing everything we can to prevent further spread.”
Known variant strains of the virus were first detected in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
An outbreak at Roberta Place was first declared on Jan. 8.
The health unit, in partnership with the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, said it accelerated its immunization program on Friday and vaccinated all eligible residents and staff.
Officials said they planned to immunize residents at the other retirement homes throughout Simcoe Muskoka over the weekend.
As of Jan. 16, eligible residents of all long-term care facilities in Simcoe Muskoka have also received their first dose of immunization against COVID-19.
Ontario reported 2,359 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 52 more deaths related to the virus.
That was down marginally from Friday’s figures of 2,662 new cases and 87 more deaths. There was also a slight drop in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 1,501 reported on Saturday — 11 fewer than Friday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Saturday there were 708 new cases in Toronto, 422 in Peel Region, 220 in York Region, 107 in Hamilton and 101 in Ottawa.
Since the province’s report on Friday, nearly 63,500 tests had been completed and 11,161 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine administered in Ontario.
As of Saturday, a total of 276,146 doses have been administered in Ontario.
On Saturday the Ontario government also announced it’s expanding its “inspection blitz” of big-box stores to ensure they’re following COVID-19 guidelines this weekend.
The workplace inspections, which started in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas last weekend, will now stretch out to Ottawa, Windsor, Niagara and Durham regions.
Officials want to ensure workers and customers at the essential businesses are properly protected from COVID-19 during the provincewide shutdown.
The blitz was developed in consultation with local health units and also covers a variety of other workplaces, including retail establishments and restaurants providing take-out meals.
The province’s labour ministry says more than 300 offences officers, as well as local public health inspectors and municipal bylaw officers, will conduct the inspections.
Corporations can now be fined $1,000, and individuals can be fined $750 or charged for failing to comply with the orders.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the province is confident that the majority of workplaces in Ottawa, Windsor, Niagara and Durham are following orders.
“However, if we find that businesses are putting the safety of workers and customers at risk, our government will not hesitate to take immediate action,” McNaughton added in a statement.
“The only way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and end the provincewide shutdown is for everyone — owners, customers and staff alike — to follow the proper guidelines.”