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As more COVID variants recorded in B.C., expert says they can be managed if we are cautious

Last Updated Mar 10, 2021 at 6:44 am PDT

FILE -- Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Infectious diseases expert says we need to continue to tread carefully as we learn more about COVID-19 virus variants

Variants continue to spread across Canada, including in B.C., which reported its first case of the P.1 strain this week

Dr. Isaac Bogoch says variants need to be taken seriously -- 'but the sky isn't falling'

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While Dr. Bonnie Henry continues to sound a positive note when it comes to COVID-19 in B.C., the provincial health officer says she is still concerned about the spread of variants of the virus.

The new P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil, is one that is being watched carefully after it was identified in the province this week, among an accelerating number of cases of COVID-19 involving so-called variants of concern, even as we talk about the positive momentum from vaccines and the start of easing restrictions in the months ahead.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases expert out of Toronto General Hospital, says these types of cases need to be taken seriously, “but the sky isn’t falling.”

“Obviously this is a scenario where we have to be careful and we have to take a cautious approach. It doesn’t mean you can’t reopen, it just means you have to do things slowly, carefully, and have the ability to pivot quickly, if need be,” he explained.

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While there are questions around these newer cases, Bogoch notes there are early indications vaccines are also effective against the P.1 variant.

“It’s lab data, it’s not perfect. But as time goes on, we’ll learn more and more about how these vaccines will protect us against COVID-19, including those variants of concern, including the P.1 variant. And, again, while we don’t know the answer to this or while we’re in the process of figuring this out, I think it’s important that we proceed cautiously,” Bogoch explained.

The big picture, he says, is variants are a concern but can be managed if we move carefully.

As of Monday, B.C. had recorded 576 variant cases. The majority of them are the B.1.1.7 strain, first identified in the U.K.

Bogoch says while we’ve so far been able to somewhat keep variants relatively contained, they are continuing to spread.

“For example, with the variant initially discovered in the United Kingdom, it certainly appears that it is more transmissible and it certainly appears that it can cause larger outbreaks, for example, in outbreak settings,” he explained. “As we look at how this variant has progressed in Canada over time, we can see that it is gradually encroaching on the COVID-19 that we have here. It’s slowly — and in some areas, not so slowly — taking over as the more dominant strain.”

Dr. Henry has said that health restrictions could slowly start to be lifted in the coming weeks as the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues and as temperatures start to warm up.

However, Health Minister Adrian Dix has stressed British Columbians shouldn’t expect for life to get back to normal just yet.

“Things will be better in the summer, but for right now, we absolutely need to follow the rules. All of us,” he said.

Bogoch is echoing messaging to tread carefully.

“It is okay to take a cautious approach because we know that the potential drawbacks can be really unfortunate,” he said. “We’ve been through this before. It’s been a year, we’re really close to being in a position where we can protect the population with very, very effective vaccines, so we should really be tracking and tracing these variants of concern and making sure that they don’t spread within the community.”

-With files from Kathryn Tindale and Marcella Bernardo