Variants of COVID-19 virus found in the United Kingdom and South Africa

The Government of Canada is closely monitoring the genetic variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 identified in the UK and South Africa, and is working with international partners, including the World Health Organization, to better understand these variants and their impacts.

Basically, there are three main reasons that makes it so important to keep track of those mutations: 

– It is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus

– It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important

– Some of those mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells

All of these come together to build a case for a virus that can spread more easily. Genetic variations of viruses are not uncommon and many other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been previously observed around the world this year. For instance, the virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, is not the same one you will find in most corners of the world.

While early data suggest that these new variants may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that they cause more severe disease symptoms or that they might affect vaccine efficacy, but more research is required to confirm these findings. However, just increasing transmission would be enough to cause problems for hospitals. If the new variant means more people are infected more quickly, that would in turn lead to more people needing hospital treatment. Therefore, a close monitoring and prompt actions are required.

The Government of Canada suspended entry into Canada of all commercial and private passenger flights from the United Kingdom, effective midnight December 20, 2020 until January 6, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. All travellers who have been in the United Kingdom or South Africa within the period of 14 days before the day on which they seek entry into Canada will be subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures, including increased scrutiny of quarantine plans.

In addition, the Public Health Agency of Canada updated its Travel Health Notice to advise extra caution to Canadians if they must travel to the United Kingdom or South Africa. The Government of Canada continues to advise against all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including all cruise ship travel, until further notice.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) is conducting an analysis of Canadian cases of COVID-19 to determine if these variants have been previously observed in Canada. So far, no cases with these variants have been identified in Canada.


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