Canada’s already overstrained healthcare system has been put further into jeopardy as a deadlier and more transmissible COVID-19 variant has arrived.
“The fight against the virus will continue regardless of how deadly the virus is, but it may mean that more people may die before it is brought under control,” said Dr. Tony Mazzulli, microbiologist-in-chief for Mount Sinai Hospital.
The B.1.1.7 variant originated in the United Kingdom in September and has appeared in numerous other countries since. Ontario currently has 43 confirmed cases of the variant, more than doubling the prior week’s recorded numbers.
This gave reason to assume Ontario was exposed to the strain for some time before its discovery. Other variants appear to headed to Canada, including Brazilian and South African strains.
“It is important to recognize that as the virus multiplies within an infected person, it will continue to mutate,” Mazzulli said. “Therefore, protecting people with the current vaccines will prevent new infections.”
Mazzulli acknowledges Canada’s scarcity of vaccines is alarming.
“The faster we do this, the more of the population will be protected,” he said. Identifying novel virus carriers early and vaccinating them will avert a mass transmission.
Along with washing your hands more thoroughly and wearing a mask extra tight, not much more can be done from an individual standpoint. With a 50-to-70 per cent increased transmission rate, the call for social distancing is integral — now more than ever before.
“The Impact of further mutations is not known, some will have no impact on the properties of the virus, while others may further add to its ability to evade the immune system,” Mazzulli said. “In addition, it may make it harder to diagnose.”
Another mutation circulating in South Africa was recently discovered to be slightly resistant to the Pfizer vaccine. This does not yet pose a need for a modified vaccine, but BioNTech and Pfizer are anticipating that outcome.
“I know that we are always going to be working within the guidelines set by the government, and so right now, during the stay-at-home order, we will not be offering in-person classes,” said Sandra Gerges, Humber College’s pharmacy technician program manager and pharmacist.
In light of B.1.1.7 cases rising, tighter restrictions were placed on air travel. All travelers entering Canada are required to quarantine at a prearranged hotel. They will also cover expenses, a measure to prevent non-essential travel.
“Whenever it seems there’s a glimpse of hope of returning back to normality, something new gets thrown into the mix,” said Nia Rajnish, a York University student. “At this point, I forget what it’s like to be in a classroom and it looks like I won’t know any time soon.”
Experts say everyone must proceed with vigilance in the precautions they take. All outings should be kept to a minimum and reserved for essential purposes only.
“I am not sure what the future holds, but I know that we all have to do our part to keep our families and communities safe,” Gerges said. “I am really hoping that our supply of the vaccine is replenished and that we can continue to vaccinate our communities.”