Last Monday marked the anniversary of the first coronavirus case in Canada. Since then, a lot happened. If 2020 has been a rough year with thousands of coronavirus deaths around the world, 2021 was off to a good start with vaccination efforts ramping up. However, mutations of the virus threaten to complicate things.
A new variant of the virus was discovered in the U.K. last September. The mutation is now the country’s dominant strain and appears to be a lot more contagious than the first version of SARS-CoV-2. Some data even suggested that it might cause more severe disease in some individuals, which causes experts to worry about an increased number of cases and hospitalizations.
Other variants from Brazil and South-Africa have also started to spread across the borders and are making health officers worry because the effects of these new mutations are not known yet.
If current vaccines appear to be effective against the U.K. mutation so far, recent data suggest that vaccination might not be enough to prevent the spreading of the South African variant, which is particularly infectious.
Last Wednesday, a South-African study revealed that the new strain, also called B1351, was resistant to antigens produced by the natural body response. Scientists believe that this could lead patients who already had the virus to be infected again and could reduce the vaccines’ efficacity.
In an effort to contain the new variants, U.S. President Joe Biden imposed an entry ban on non-U.S. travelers flying from Brazil, the United-Kingdom, South Africa, and 26 more European countries with open borders.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, also announced the federal government’s intention to consider tightening restrictions regarding international travel to prevent new variants from entering the country. Measures like two-weeks hotel-based quarantine might be adopted to reduce non-essential travel by discouraging people to go on vacation.
Even though additional measures could limit the number of cases, these new variants will undoubtedly represent another challenge.
Vaccination might resolve our problem on a long-term basis, but for now, we should ramp up the basic health precautions to prevent further spreading. Coronavirus is far from over and the new variants represent an additional challenge that we need to face with great precautions. We should keep ramping up our testing efforts to identify people both in the symptomatic and asymptomatic group, and for that, screening the population by using rapid tests is essential.