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Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 in Victoria on Dec. 7, 2020.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

British Columbia has recorded its first case of the South African variant of COVID-19, although the Provincial Health Officer says that she doesn’t think it poses a serious threat yet.

Dr. Bonnie Henry made the disclosure during a briefing on Thursday, also noting that there are four confirmed cases of the British variant of the pandemic virus first detected in B.C. at the end of December as a single case.

The latest case of the British variant is a returning traveller in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and one case of the South African variant has also been detected in the same region. On Thursday, Dr. Henry said the person with the South African variant did not travel nor was that person connected to anyone who had travelled, raising questions that health officials are trying to answer.

“We don’t know how that person got it yet, but I am confident that it has not spread from that person to others,” Dr. Henry said.

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Early evidence suggests both variants are more transmissible versions of the COVID-19 virus, and may increase the number of new cases that arise from one case of COVID-19 by 50 per cent. Both Britain and South Africa have detected these new variants in recent weeks, and they have been linked to a surge in cases.

Also Thursday, Dr. Henry announced 536 new cases of COVID-19 in British Columbia, with seven additional deaths linked to the virus. She also said 69,746 residents of B.C. have been vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Dr. Henry has expressed concerns that the variants may spread more easily, which means it is important to monitor through genome sequencing for the variants.

At the end of December, Dr. Henry announced the first case of a person in B.C. infected with the British variant, a resident of the Island Health region who returned to B.C. from Britain on a Dec. 15 flight. Testing confirmed a positive diagnosis on Dec. 19.

At the time, Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said there was no evidence the new variant was more likely to cause severe illness, but studies suggested it could spread more quickly and easily.

She said it was “concerning” that it is, so far, unclear how the South African variant arose.

She said she does not believe that either spread is causing a lot of illness in B.C. communities yet, but added, “We are not, by any means, out of the woods.”

Dr. Henry said three of the British variant cases are linked to one specific traveller, and one is related to an additional traveller. “We don’t believe this has spread at all from these four cases,” she said.

Dr. Henry said the challenge is to catch importations early. “It is, of course, a concern, and we’re continuing to monitor.”

She said traditional routines used to stop the spread of COVID-19 will work in stopping the variants.

“I am fairly confident that if we were seeing a lot of spread from one of these new variants, we would have picked it up,” she said.

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