Ontario identifies 36 cases of B.1.617 COVID-19 variant first discovered in India
TORONTO -- The coronavirus variant that first emerged in India has been detected in Ontario.
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Public Health Ontario (PHO) says 36 cases of the B.1.617 have been identified in the province in the last few days.
Of those cases, six were detected through PHO’s genomic surveillance program. The agency says the cases were all linked to international travel.
The other 30 cases were identified through the province’s airport and land border screening programs.
“PHO is continuing to actively monitor for the B.1.617 variant, as well as other mutations and variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
Other provinces, including Alberta and Quebec, have also reported cases of the B.1.617 variant.
The 'double mutant' variant was first discovered in India in March. Researchers said the variant has two mutations in the spike protein that the virus uses to attach itself to cells. They noted that the mutations could help the virus spread more easily and escape the immune system.
“We don't know a lot about this variant. We know that it’s as transmissible as the other variants,” said Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious diseases expert from the University of British Columbia. “We don't know yet what is the behaviour. Unfortunately, (they) are coming and we have to learn and cope and understand.”
It's unclear whether the variant is currently behind the fast-growing outbreak in that country, which added more than 330,000 infections Friday.
The situation led to Canada suspending flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the restrictions are necessary.
“A determination was made that there needed to be further steps taken,” he said.
Following news of the new variant in the province, Brampton Mayor Brown renewed his call for the suspension all leisure air travel.
"The result of loose rules at the airport is more and more dangerous variants. You can still take a non-direct flight to any #COVID19 hot spot in the world," Brown tweeted Friday.
On Thursday, Peel Regional Council voted in favour of a motion calling for domestic and international leisure travels into Pearson International Airport to be halted.
On Friday, Ontario reported 2,700 new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first discovered in the U.K. According to Public Health Ontario, the majority of samples screened come back positive for the B.1.1.7 variant or the two other variants of concern circulating in the province.
- with files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press