Three more cases of a more contagious coronavirus variant have been identified in Manitoba.
All three cases of the B117 variant — a coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. — are linked to international travel and have since recovered, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said at a Friday afternoon news conference.
Their close contacts ranged from four people to 24, Atwal said, though there is no evidence of further spread of the variant in Manitoba. He said he believes most of those contacts were people who live with those who tested positive.
None of the new variant cases are linked to First Nations communities, he said, but he added he would not specify where the cases were, or when they were identified.
Atwal said the people whose cases were announced Friday followed public health rules, though he declined to elaborate.
“It’s too burdensome to talk about each case individually. There are some privacy concerns there as well.”
Manitoba’s first case of the B117 variant was announced 10 days ago.
Friday’s update brings the province’s total variant cases identified to four, though Atwal said he doesn’t believe any are linked.
“This is not an unexpected development. We are anticipating variant of concern cases in Manitoba and we are prepared for this,” Atwal said.
“Just like [with] our first cases of COVID-19, we need to learn to live with the virus and the variants of concern. However, that does not mean we can [become] complacent with our actions.”
Opposition NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara called on the province to provide information sooner about variants of concern as they’re identified in Manitoba.
“We need to make sure that we stay ahead of these variants,” Asagwara said.
Atwal said going forward, known B117 cases will be listed daily in Manitoba’s COVID-19 news releases.
Flights linked to variant
The province appears to have recently added flights to its online list of potential COVID-19 exposures, with the note that a “variant of concern” is linked to those flights.
Three January flights were added to the list with that note since the first variant case was announced last week, but all were domestic.
A provincial spokesperson declined to provide more details about where those flights came from. The information posted online pertains to the flight that entered Canada, and may not include its origin location, according to the spokesperson.
“As indicated by Dr. Atwal, all three cases are related to international travel. However, we will not be providing additional details out of respect and privacy for the individuals involved.”
WATCH | Dr. Atwal on coronavirus variants in Manitoba:
After Manitoba’s first B117 variant case was announced on Feb. 9, a spokesperson revealed that person had travelled from Africa to Europe to Manitoba.
Atwal said the additional variant cases serve as reminders to keep following public health orders and only travel if absolutely necessary.
Over the last week, two First Nations communities in Manitoba announced suspected cases of the B117 variant.
Further testing later confirmed neither the cases in Pauingassi First Nation nor one in Pimicikamak were B117, or any variants of concern.
The variant has not been confirmed on any First Nations in the province.
Spike continues in north
More than half the 92 new COVID-19 cases also announced on Friday — 50 — are in the Northern Health Region, where several communities are dealing with outbreaks.
There are also 35 new cases in the Winnipeg health region, three in the Prairie Mountain Health region and two each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern health regions.
Two more people from Winnipeg have died after getting COVID-19: a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s. The woman’s case was linked to the outbreak at Golden Links Lodge, Atwal said.
Those deaths bring Manitoba’s total to 879, after a previously reported death was removed because of a data correction.
Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate fell to 5.7 per cent Friday, from six per cent the day before. Winnipeg’s rate was 4.2 per cent, down from 4.4.
There are now 213 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Manitoba, down by 11 from Thursday. Twenty-seven are still in intensive care.
Two previously announced COVID-19 cases were removed from Manitoba’s total after a data correction, which brings the number of cases identified in the province to 31,235.
There are now 1,169 active cases in Manitoba, though health officials have said that number is inflated by a data entry backlog, and 29,187 have recovered.
On Thursday, there were 2,389 more COVID-19 tests done in the province, bringing the total completed in Manitoba since early last February to 508,900.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Feb. 19, 2021: