COVID-19: British Columbians don’t yet know how widespread the highly-contagious B.1.617 variant has become

B.C. Centre for Disease Control report expected Wednesday should have the answer

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British Columbians will have to wait until Wednesday before learning how widespread the highly-contagious B.1.617 variant of concern has become in the province.

On May 10, the World Health Organization upgraded B. 1.617 from a variant of interest to a variant of concern.

This came as the mutation wreaked havoc in India, with hundreds of thousands of new cases being reported every day and hospitals overwhelmed since becoming widespread in March.

Epidemiologists have also raised concern that the sheer scale of the outbreak in India may induce additional virus mutations, potentially prolonging the calamity for India and the rest of the world.

The variant has been in B.C. since at least the start of April.

On April 21, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported that 39 cases of B.1.617 had been identified in B.C. through genome sequencing of positive COVID-19 test results.

At that time Health Minister Adrian Dix said the arrival of the highly-contagious variant from India was “concerning”.

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Henry said that while these cases had been identified at the start of April, they were not reported because the B.1.617 was only a variant of interest at that point.

Henry has provided no update on B.1.617 cases since. There was also no COVID-19 update provided over the weekend in B.C. — the only province in Canada that only provides data five days a week.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control releases a “situation report” every week, but it reports on the week or two before the report is released.

For example, the most recent situation report was released on May 12, and covers the period April 25 to May 1.

With the addition of B.1.617, there are now four variants of concern circulating in B.C.

The most recent BCCDC report showed variants of concern have taken over from the original virus that circulated last year, making up 80 per cent of new cases.

The most common variants of concern in B.C. are the B.1.1.7 first identified in the U.K. and the P.1 variant first found in Brazil. The B.1351 mutation first found in South Africa isn’t widespread in B.C.

On Wednesday, B.C.’ers will find out how the balance has shifted with the emergence of B.1.617.

— with a file from Bloomberg

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