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A nurse guides people being tested for COVID-19 outside a hospital in Toronto, on Dec. 10, 2020.CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Ontario has confirmed three more cases of a contagious new variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom.

Health officials say the three new cases are either linked to travel or a close contact of someone who has travelled.

Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, says two of the cases – one in Toronto and one in nearby York Region – had recently travelled to the U.K.

She says the third case is a close contact of someone who recently travelled to Dubai.

The province now has a total of six confirmed cases of the new variant.

The first known cases were logged last month in a couple from Durham Region who had also come in contact with someone returning from the U.K.

Earlier, Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s COVID-19 vaccine program as a health-care worker became the first person in the province to receive both doses of one of the shots.

Anita Quidangen was given her second dose at Toronto’s University Health Network, the first of five health-care workers slated to cross that milestone Monday.

Quidangen said she hopes others will follow in her footsteps as the province continues its rollout of two COVID-19 vaccines.

Personal support worker Anita Quidangen receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, at The Michener Institute, in Toronto, on Jan. 4, 2021.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Ford, who was present as the health-care workers received their shots, acknowledged there have been “a few bumps in the road” in the province’s immunization campaign but said he is confident in the plan.

“We’re ramping it up and you’re going to see a significant difference over the next few weeks,” the premier said.

Critics, including some in the medical field, have said the province is not moving fast enough with inoculations.

A decision to temporarily close immunization clinics over the holidays was met with widespread outrage last week, prompting the retired general heading the vaccine rollout to admit the move was a mistake.

As of 8 p.m. on Sunday night, the province said 42,419 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Ontario. Of those, 4,808 doses were administered Sunday.

Meanwhile, students across Ontario returned to the virtual classroom on Monday as part of a provincewide lockdown.

Students in northern Ontario and elementary students in southern Ontario will resume in-person learning next week.

High schoolers in southern Ontario will continue online learning until Jan. 25.

The move is part of a provincial lockdown that began on Boxing Day and is set to last until Jan. 9 in northern Ontario and Jan. 23 in southern Ontario.

Asked whether the province would consider extending remote learning in light of an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government will continue to follow the advice of medical experts in making those decisions.

Ontario reported 3,270 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 29 new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 917 cases were in Toronto, 581 in Peel, 389 in York Region and 246 in Windsor-Essex County.

There were 1,190 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ontario, including 333 patients in intensive care.

Dr. Kanna Vela has been treating COVID-19 patients in emergency departments in Ajax and Scarborough, Ontario for nearly 10 months. She lived apart from her family at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Receiving her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in late December has given Dr. Vela some hope for the months ahead as hospitals struggle to care for the rise in COVID-19 cases.

The Globe and Mail

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