YELLOWKNIFE APRIL 8, 2021 – Alberta Precision Laboratories has notified the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) that two recently announced COVID-19 infections have been identified as a Variant of Concern.
They include a confirmed infection announced on April 3 in an out-of-territory worker at Diavik Diamond Mine, and one announced on April 5 in an NWT resident that was related to international travel.
Lab analysis confirmed the virus in both cases is the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom. On April 1, the first confirmed COVID-19 infection in the Northwest Territories was identified as the B.1.1.7 variant in an out-of-territory worker at Diavik Diamond Mine.
The individuals and identified contacts are currently self-isolating and doing well.
The OCPHO is working closely with Diavik mine to ensure the individuals with COVID-19 and contacts continue to safely isolate onsite.
The company will test all employees at the mine site and continue to work with Public Health officials to mitigate transmission risk. The OCPHO is also working with Diavik to safely return NWT and out-of-territory workers home.
Many workers onsite were assessed as being at very low risk of any exposure and have already left the worksite to return home. Many others will be returning home in the next few days as long as the situation remains unchanged.
Routine monitoring and follow-up will continue with the individuals and contacts. Medical staff are continuing to monitor and assess all worksite employees per standard COVID safety protocols.
Assessment by the OCPHO is that the individual acquired the infection outside the Northwest Territories and was not communicable during air travel. Existing federal and NWT processes were followed, including COVID-19 testing at the time of arrival in Canada.
Three contacts have been identified and the individual and contacts are self-isolating and doing well. Public health will continue to monitor and support the case and contacts.
There is no identified risk to the public related to these infections at this time. The introduction of a Variant of Concern into the NWT is a new development in the pandemic, and we must be vigilant in our response to this.
Monitoring and investigation will continue per public health communicable disease protocols to mitigate any transmission risk.
Variants of Concern
The NWT sends a sample of the virus detected from all those diagnosed with COVID-19 to our southern lab partners to test for any Variants of Concern.
Variants of Concern have been increasing in number across Canada and globally. Evidence gathered to date suggests Variants of Concern spread among people easier and faster than the original strain. This can result in more illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.
COVID-19 infections caused by a Variant of Concern typically have the same symptoms as those caused by a non-variant strain of the virus, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, or other symptoms.
While the new COVID-19 Variants of Concern seem to spread more easily than the original virus, the same types of preventive strategies will be effective. There is strong evidence that the Moderna vaccine is very protective against the B.1.1.7 variant. Protect yourself and your community by practicing these healthy habits every day:
- Keep physical distance of at least two metres (or six feet).
- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently, especially if touching your face.
- Wear a mask when keeping distance is tough.
- Keep crowds small and spaces large.
- Stay home if you’re sick, even if your symptoms are mild.
- Call your healthcare provider if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Self-isolate responsibly whenever required.
The OCPHO anticipated it would see Variants of Concern, such as B.1.1.7, at some point in the NWT and it is prepared to handle them. We can all lower the risk of transmitting COVID-19 by following healthy habits.
All commentary is attributable to Dr. Kami Kandola, Chief Public Health Officer for the Northwest Territories.