Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Heath says the province has recorded its first case of a potentially more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first seen in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, in her first news conference since before Christmas, says the infected person had recently arrived in Alberta from the U.K.
Dr. Hinshaw says fortunately, the person did everything they were supposed to upon arrival, staying isolated from others, and there is no evidence their illness has spread.
She says health officials in Alberta are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to obtain a list of people who were sitting near the infected person on their flight to Alberta, but she believes the risk of transmission is low.
Ontario reported cases of the new variant over the weekend in a couple in Durham Region, east of Toronto, as well as someone in the Ottawa region, while officials in British Columbia reported a case on Vancouver Island.
Dr. Hinshaw did not say where in Alberta the person lives or what airports they passed through.
“We are going to be following up, specifically with individuals who were seated in close rows,” she told the news conference Monday.
“But again, we have looked at the situation and believe that the risk is very low.”
Canada’s public health agency has said while early data suggests the new variant may be more transmissible, there is no evidence it causes more severe symptoms or affects the effectiveness of approved vaccines.
Canada previously announced a travel ban on all flights arriving from the U.K. until Jan. 6 in an effort to contain the variant.
Dr. Hinshaw said there were 112 new COVID-19 deaths over the past five days, pushing the provincial total since the beginning of the pandemic to 1,002.
New daily case numbers were down significantly over the past few days, at times below 1,000 new infections, but Dr. Hinshaw cautioned the drop was largely due to fewer people showing up to get tested over the holidays.
Premier Jason Kenney issued a statement Monday about the province passing the grim milestone of 1,000 deaths, calling it more than a statistic.
“It represents more than 1,000 mothers, wives, fathers, husbands – empty spaces around the table that can never be filled. Each one means that there is a family that is grieving, a friend who has lost someone they loved, a child who lost their parent, a partner who lost their true love,” Mr. Kenney said.
He added there is reason for hope, since more than 6,000 Albertans had received their first doses of vaccine as of Monday.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And so on this grim day, I ask all Albertans to double down on our public health measures,” Mr. Kenney said.