Canada On Guard Against New Virus Strain Behind COVID-19

December 23, 2020 Updated: December 23, 2020

Canada’s top doctor says federal officials are mobilizing their genome sequencing networks in an effort to catch a potentially more infectious strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the strain has not yet been detected in Canada.

One particular lineage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is appearing to dominate infections in the U.K., with an epidemiologist there suggesting mutations on the new strand could be making it 70 percent more infectious. Experts say more data is needed before they can verify that, however, and they expect current vaccines to still work on the new strand.

Viruses are constantly changing and mutating, says Tam, and Canada has been undergoing sequencing on COVID viral samples for months in an effort to track those kinds of alterations.

News of the revamped strand in the U.K., which has already been found in other parts of the world, has made those efforts more important. And given the way COVID spreads, Tam says she wouldn’t be surprised to see this new lineage driving infections in several countries.

“It may become one of the more common strains,” Tam told a news conference Tuesday. “We know how this virus transmits in hidden ways, so it’s a possibility for sure.

“But by having a bit of lead time and getting set up, we will be able to detect it should it appear in Canada.”