Over 99 possible new cases of the UK variant of COVID-19—also known as B.1.1.7.—have been identified in Ontario by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDH).
In a statement released Tuesday, medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner expressed concern that the B.1.1.7 variant—which is more contagious and transmissible—could be more widespread than health officials had initially anticipated. “We need to really take public health measures that prevent spread of the virus much more to heart,” Gardner said.
The majority of new cases have been traced back to a deadly outbreak at Roberta Place Long Term Care in Barrie, Ontario, which has killed 46 people and infected more than 200. Health officials say the UK variant has already been found in some of those infected in the outbreak.
However, two of the new cases have no known link to this outbreak.
The results are preliminary, and have come only as the first of a two-part screening process for COVID-19 cases, said Dr. Gardner.
The first testing process confirmed that the cases are variants of concern. The second part will confirm which variant of COVID-19 is producing positive test results. The SMDH believes that the results will likely show the B.1.1.7 variant.
These new probable cases are in addition to seven existing cases of the UK variant in the region, recently confirmed via genome testing.
“I’m sharing this information because this variant is on the move in our community and the only way it can move is through people,” said Dr. Gardner.
“We need to assume that a variant of this virus is everywhere and do everything we can to drive it out.”
There have been 43 confirmed cases of the UK variant in Ontario to date. Earlier this week, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said Ontarians "must assume" the variant will spread throughout the province.