First case of COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa confirmed in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Ottawa has its first confirmed case of the B.1.351 variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in South Africa.

Speaking at Monday’s Board of Health meeting, Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches noted the confirmation, alongside the six cases of the B.1.1.7 variant—first identified in the U.K.—that have been confirmed to date.

“Ottawans were able to keep COVID-19 levels manageable in the orange level in the fall, yet we know there could be even more rigor required if more transmissible variants of concern take root,” Dr. Etches said. “We will have the results from all the positive COVID-19 tests that are now being screened for the variants and we will keep an eye on this risk in Ottawa.”

Dr. Etches said all of the people who have tested positive for the variants have been following isolation protocols.

The single case of B.1.351 was also confirmed in Public Health Ontario’s epidemiologic summary on Tuesday.

Ontario has reported three cases of the B.1.351 variant as of Tuesday’s report and 227 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant. A case of the P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, was reported in Toronto on Sunday.

Speaking on CTV Morning Live, Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, suggested that stricter measures might be necessary to keep variant cases under control as the province reopens.

“What worked in October and November won’t work with this new variant (B.1.1.7), so we’re going to have to up our game,” he said. “The protective measures will work but we’re going to need even more distance and better mask wearing to be able to control this until we can get our immunity up.”

Dr. Manuel said the key now is vaccines.

“Now, it’s really about getting the vaccine. Even with spring, I think we’re going to have as really difficult time controlling COVID-19 without immunity levels getting higher.”

Under the current vaccine rollout, the city is focused on vaccinating residents of retirement homes. The next phase, which begins in March, would focus on adults over 80 and then gradually decreasing in 5-year increments, (so after 80+, adults 75-79 would be vaccinated, then 70-74, etc.), people who live and work in high-risk congregate settings like shelters, frontline essential workers, people with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers, and other populations facing health-care barriers who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Vaccines are expected to be widely available in Ontario starting in August.

Ottawa’s stay-at-home order ends at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 16. It is expected Ottawa will return to the Orange-Restrict level should current case trends are maintained. Dr. Manuel suggested that Red-Control levels may be required.

Red-Control places additional restrictions, including a limit of five people for indoor gatherings, 75 per cent capacity for supermarkets, convenience stores and pharmacies, and 50 per cent capacity for other retail, including big box stores, as well as a cap of 10 people seated indoors in restaurants. 

Ottawa Public Health has been reporting a general downward trend in COVID-19 cases in Ottawa over the past few weeks following a spike after Christmas. On Tuesday, OPH reported 25 new cases of COVID-19 and 60 newly resolved cases.

Correction:

A previous version of this article mistakenly said the second phase of vaccine rollout begins in April. Under the province’s guidelines, it begins in March.

We regret the error.

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