B.C. identifies first case of U.K. coronavirus variant in Vancouver Island resident

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, seen here at a press conference on Sept. 22, 2020 in Victoria, B.C. (File Photo).

CTV News/VANCOUVER — The new coronavirus variant, first identified in the U.K., has been identified in B.C., according to a statement from the provincial health officer and the B.C. Ministry of Health.

The statement, released Sunday just after 1 p.m., comes one day after Ontario reported its first two cases of the extra-contagious strain.

“B.C. has identified the first case of a person in B.C. infected with the COVID-19 U.K. variant,” reads the joint statement from Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.

The strain was detected by the BC Centre for Disease Control at its public health lab during the centre’s reviews of COVID-19 samples from travellers who recently returned from the U.K., upon Dr. Henry’s request.

“I have asked the BCCDC lab to go back and look at all of the people who had a travel history who tested positive in the last few weeks,” said Dr. Henry in an interview with CTV News Vancouver on Sunday.

“We’ve been doing whole genome sequencing, to see if there was anybody already in the province  with this variant – it turns out that we have identified at least one person so far,” Dr. Henry added.

It is “probable” that more cases of this variant will be identified in B.C. she said.

“We know that there were other flights that came in from the U.K. (before the flight restrictions) and from other places and we are looking at people who’ve tested positive on other flights,” she said.

The public health officer, renowned for her calm and clear communication-style, said she is concerned there will be many more COVID-19 cases in B.C. if the variant spreads.

“We are concerned that if it starts to spread here that we could see many, many more cases,” she said.

“So it really speaks to the importance … of quarantine and people maintaining their quarantine when they come back from traveling,” Dr. Henry said.

The person infected lives on Vancouver Island and returned to B.C. in mid-December.

“The individual, who resides in the Island Health region, returned to B.C. from the U.K. on flight AC855 on Dec. 15, 2020,” reads the news statement.

The statement did not specify which B.C. airport the infected person landed at. However a flight exposure warning from the BCCDC suggests it may have landed at the Vancouver International Airport. The centre’s COVID-19 flight exposures list says that an infected person was on a Dec. 15 Air Canada flight 855 from London to Vancouver.

Another exposure warning from the BCCDC indicates an infected person travelled from the Vancouver airport to the city of Nanaimo, located on Vancouver Island, on Dec. 15.

CTV News Vancouver has reached out to the Ministry of Health to ask where the person landed and for details on their travel to Vancouver Island.

The person developed symptoms while in quarantine and was tested immediately, according to the statement. The test came back positive on Dec.19, 2020.

In speaking with CTV News, Dr. Henry said the person’s infection “does not appear to have spread.”

“The person was maintaining their quarantine … (and has) very few close contacts so we’re monitoring them very carefully,” she said.

Dr. Henry said that discovering this strain emphasizes the importance for travellers coming in from the U.K. to maintain their quarantine.

“Anybody who was on flights from the U.K., particularly in the last few weeks, needs to maintain their quarantine if they have any concerns at all to get a test,” she said.

Scientific studies suggest the coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. spreads “more quickly and easily,” reads the news statement.

Because of this, “British Columbians everywhere must continue to be cautious and follow all (provincial health officer) orders and guidelines, stay close to home, avoid non-essential travel, practice safe, physical distancing and wear a mask when in public indoor spaces,” it continues.

On Dec. 26, the B.C. Ministry of Health told CTV News Vancouver that it would consider implementing additional restrictions on non-essential travel based on Ontario’s reporting of the new strain.

“We will continue to do everything we can to keep people and communities safe and may consider further action to reduce non-essential travel as the situation evolves,” said a ministry spokesperson in an emailed statement to CTV News Vancouver on Boxing Day.

“We are aware of the cases reported in Ontario and have been watching this closely, while reviewing all positive cases in B.C. travellers that potentially came from the U.K.,” continued the Dec. 26 statement.

In Sunday’s statement, Dr. Henry and Dix said the province continues to support Canada’s travel ban on flights from the U.K. and gave more details about the virus.

“”It is important to note there is no evidence that the new COVID-19 variant is more likely to cause severe illness, nor is there evidence to suggest the Health Canada-approved vaccines will be any less effective against the new variant.”