What is a virus variant?
All viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, change over time. When there are several changes to the genetic material of the virus it is called a virus variant.
A variant is of concern when it affects:
- disease spread
- disease severity
- tests used to detect the virus
- vaccines and treatments
Currently, there are different COVID-19 variants appearing across Ontario.
How are the variants of concern spreading?
The majority of cases of confirmed variants of concern (VOC) cases in Ontario were linked to outbreaks or close contacts with a confirmed case. Most of the cases involved did not have a recent history of international travel.
What are the most common strains of the variant?
The most common variant in Ontario is the UK variant (B.1.1. 7, Dec. 2020). The B.1.1.7 variant has been detected in different parts of Ontario. Other variants include the South Africa variant (B.1.351, Dec. 2020), Brazil variant (P.1, Jan. 2021), and the California variant (B.1.427 and B.1.429, Mar. 2021).
Is the UK variant more infectious than COVID-19?
The UK variant can spread more quickly and easily from person to person leading to more cases of COVID-19. There is a higher risk of hospitalizations and death associated with the UK variant compared to other variants.
Are COVID-19 tests able to detect the UK variant?
The tests done at labs can detect the UK variant strain but more screening and sequencing is required to identify the variant of concern. The results for the test may take longer to detect the strain because it is a two-step process.
Is there a higher risk of reinfection with variants of concern?
There is no evidence of a higher risk of reinfection yet but studies are being done to confirm findings.
Are vaccines effective against the UK variant?
Early research does not show a significant impact on vaccine efficacy against the UK variant. We should continue to practice public health guidelines as evidence becomes clearer on the effectiveness of the vaccine against the different variants.
What are we doing to control the variant in Canada?
In Canada, we continue to study how the variants are spreading in communities and what happens to people who are infected with it. The Government of Ontario has developed a 6-point action plan to protect people against the variant.
For more information about the COVID-19 variants, visit the Government of Ontario’s website.
Are enhanced public health measures necessary at this time?
Yes, controlling the spread of the virus and allow the healthcare system to respond to severe COVID-19 cases requires cooperation from the public. The best defense against the virus is to practice physical distancing, use a mask, maintain hand hygiene, isolate and quarantine, and stay at home as much as possible.