Ontario couple faces charges over 1st Canadian cases of new COVID-19 variant

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Coronavirus Canada Updates: Here’s what you need to know about the mutations
Coronavirus Canada Updates: Here’s what you need to know about the mutations

A couple living in Durham Region have been charged with public-health related offences after they discovered they had the new COVID-19 variant by a fluke, CBC News reports.

Currently, Ontario’s testing for the variant from the U.K., known as B117, is only done in special circumstances, such as knowing the person travelled outside of Canada recently or had contact with a traveller.

The Durham couple in December told public health last month they had no contact with travellers but that turned out to be false.

“Additional investigation and follow-up case and contact management has revealed that the couple had indeed been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K., which is new information not provided in earlier interviews,” the provincial health ministry said in a Dec. 27 statement, a day after it said the couple had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.”

The Durham Regional Health Department confirmed to the public broadcaster that the man and woman have been charged, but did not clarify what those charges are because the matter is before the courts. The man and woman could be charged under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which is a provincial law that invests regional medical officers of health with the power to impose restriction or conditions to control epidemics. The couple are set to appear in court in March.

It’s also not clear if others will be charged.

Right now, only Saskatchewan’s testing detects B117 in every swab, so it was complete chance that the Durham couple’s test came back positive for the variant.

Public Health Ontario said their swabs just happened to be tested at a private sector lab, whose facilities screen for B117.

“The test results flagged with the possible variant,” the agency said in an email. “The initial flag by the community lab about the two Durham samples was coincidental, in that they were not purposefully searching for the variant.”

The B117 strain emerged in the U.K. in the fall, with the public being made aware of it in December. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant is up to 70 per cent more contagious than COVID-19, however it is not more deadly.

The federal government had banned travel to and from the U.K. until January 6.

Ontario reported 2,903 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province has also detected eight more cases of the COVID-19 variant from United Kingdom, bringing the total number detected across Canada now to at least 22.

Canada’s first case of another more infectious variant of COVID-19 that surfaced in South Africa was found in Alberta on Friday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the person is believed to have contracted the illness while travelling and is in quarantine.

“There’s no evidence at this time that the virus has spread to others,” Hinshaw said.

“I know any new case is concerning, but we are actively monitoring for these variants and working to protect the public’s health.”

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