Novel Coronavirus COVID-19

COVID-19 Variants of Concern

COVID-19 variants of concern, such as those originating in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, continue to spread globally. The first variant of concern, originally found in the United Kingdom, was detected in Canada in December 2020. Since then cases of COVID-19 due to variants of concern have been identified in a number of Canadian provinces.

Our knowledge and understanding of these variants is rapidly evolving. Provincial public health officials continue to review the emerging evidence and modify responses to delay their spread and limit their impact.  

Manitoba’s goal is to slow the introduction of variants of concern in Manitoba, giving us more time to get vaccine into arms to protect Manitobans.

We know that the virus can be transmitted by people who don’t have any symptoms. This can be particularly challenging in the close confines of households, where staying apart can be difficult and transmission is already occurring. That’s why we’re also making changes to how we manage cases and contacts to further reduce the spread of the virus.

Manitoba has lowered the threshold of what’s considered “prolonged contact” with a COVID-positive case to identify close contacts. This will help identify more close contacts and reduce the spread of the virus.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, all household members will be considered close contacts and will have to self-isolate.

If someone is a close contact of a case who lives in a different household, all members of the close contact’s household must also stay home until the close contact has been tested and they have a negative result.

Any close contacts without symptoms will be advised to get tested at day 10 after their last exposure to a positive case. Close contacts with symptoms should continue to be tested as symptoms develop.

Close contacts must self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days regardless of test results.

Viruses like the one that cause COVID-19 are constantly changing through mutation. New variants occur over time; sometimes, the new variants emerge and disappear, while others last.

Different variants of concern of the virus that causes COVID-19 are currently circulating globally. This includes a variant called B.1.1.7, which was originally identified in the United Kingdom in fall 2020. Other variants of concern have also been detected, including ones identified in South Africa and Brazil.

COVID-19 variants of concern may:

  • Spread more quickly in the population compared to the current strain. For instance, it only took the South African and UK variants a few months to become the most dominant strains circulating in their respective countries. Quicker virus spread may result in higher numbers of cases that can affect health system capacity.
  • Cause more severe disease. While preliminary analysis suggested that the UK variant did not increase the severity of disease, we continue to monitor the effects of all variants.
  • Compromise natural or vaccine induced immunity. Mutations may interfere with the ability of antibodies to recognize or stop the virus, and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Research is ongoing to determine impacts on vaccines, including how vaccine manufacturers can alter vaccines to address mutations that occur.   

Given these potential changes, public health officials at all levels (internationally, nationally and provincially) continue to actively monitor and study emerging COVID-19 variants.

Manitoba’s approach is focused on allowing the vaccination program to rollout to as many Manitobans as possible while slowing the spread of COVID-19 variants by:

  1. Laboratory screening of positive COVID-19 specimens for mutations associated with variants of concern to allow early detection.
  2. Aggressive case and contact management to contain and slow the spread of COVID-19, including variants of concern, in the province.
  3. Ongoing reviews of public health measures to align with changing national guidance and incorporate emerging evidence.
  4. Ongoing monitoring of variants in Manitoba.

Manitobans should continue follow public health orders, limit contact with others as much as possible, and focus on the fundamentals to limit the spread of COVID-19 (including variants) and protect yourself and those around you. Be sure to:

  • Check yourself for symptoms every day
  • Stay home when you are sick, even if symptoms are only mild
  • Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Maintain social (physical) distancing
  • Wear a mask when social (physical) distancing is not possible
  • Wash your hands when social (physical) distancing is not possible
  • Follow all public health advice and direction if you have returned from travel or have been identified as close contact to a case with a variant of concern

Yes. Research is still ongoing to determine impacts on vaccines, including how vaccine manufacturers can alter vaccines to address mutations that occur.  Our best defence against COVID-19 and variants of concern is to vaccinate Manitoba’s population, in addition to following public health orders and following the fundamentals.

An individual who has tested positive for a COVID-19 variant of concern must isolate for 10 days. If the positive individual isolates at home, all members of that individual’s household must also self-isolate for the same 10 days as the positive case, and must self-isolate for a further 14 days following to ensure the virus was not transmitted in the final days of the case’s isolation, for a total of 24 days of self-isolation. Alternative isolation arrangements can also be discussed with public health officials.