Testing confirms B117 coronavirus variant not present in Pauingassi First Nation

The National Microbiology Laboratory has confirmed that the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. was not found in some samples from Pauingassi First Nation, the community said in a news release on Tuesday.

The initial screening done by the province looks for a genetic marker — a key mutation — that indicates a sample might be a virus variant of concern. 

The coronavirus variant found in Pauingassi First Nation shares that genetic marker with the B117 variant, but the full sequencing has shown that the samples for which sequencing was successful are negative for the B117 variant.

The B117 virus variant wasn’t found in five of the seven samples, Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead with the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team, said in an interview on CBC Manitoba’s Radio Noon on Tuesday.

“Thank you to everyone who has reached out, provided assistance and shown support for our Nation at this time. While we are not out of the woods yet, so to speak, it is a great relief that we are not in fact dealing with the B117 U.K. variant of concern,” Pauingassi First Nation Chief Roddy Owens wrote in a release.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says virus variants are common with mRNA viruses like the novel coronavirus.

Eighteen members of the Canadian Armed Force landed in the remote northeastern community of Pauingassi First Nation on Feb. 6 and are still there helping combat COVID-19. (Submitted by the Canadian Armed Forces)

This one identified in Pauingassi First Nation has “no clinical significance,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday — meaning it’s not more contagious or deadly than other strains which cause COVID-19.

He added that all provincial COVID-19 samples from the beginning of February on are being sent for further analysis to check for possible variants.

“It’s really important that we keep these variants of concern from grabbing a foothold in our community, or it will really have a negative impact on our ability to reopen,” Roussin said.

“We’re going to see variants of concern that may increase transmission, we could see some that may increase the severity in some individuals and then we we need to consider the possibility that we’ll see variants that escape the vaccine. And so these are all things that we have to be aware of.”

WATCH | Dr. Roussin on variants of concern:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday the province must continue to follow COVID-19 fundamentals, especially as Canada identifies more cases of coronavirus variants of concern. 0:45

On Saturday, Pauingassi First Nation, a fly-in community about 280 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, announced the possible cases of the coronavirus variant of concern.

Pimicikamak treating possible variant as positive for now

On Monday, Pimicikamak, also known as Cross Lake First Nation, also announced one probable case.

Anderson says that sample hasn’t yet been tested by the National Microbiology Lab.

“We need to still continue to act as though it might be [B117] until we have confirmation that it’s not, just to ensure we are taking every conservative and aggressive measure that we can to avoid any spread,” she said.

Chief David Monias said in a Facebook Live the same day there are now 107 COVID-19 cases and 300 close contacts self-isolating in the community 530 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

In addition to DNA markers similar to the B117 variant, Monias says the alarming spread of the virus in the community had him worried about a virus variant of concern.

Pimicikamak is located about 530 km north of Winnipeg. As of Tuesday, there are 107 cases of COVID-19, and one possible case of the B117 variant. (Submitted by Kyle Scribe)

“It went from one person to the next, and one household to the next very quickly,” he said. “The transmission of the virus was increased than when we had the first and second wave. So I think that’s why they suspected it.”

He’s calling for additional support from the federal government and for the Canadian Armed Forces to come help combat the virus.

To date, there is only one confirmed case of a variant of concern in Manitoba. The person had travelled from Africa to Europe and then to Winnipeg before testing positive. Five household contacts were told to self-isolate.

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