COVID-19 variants mean 'less room for error,' says Yukon's top doctor

·2 min read
Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. Hanley says there is 'nothing magical' about COVID-19 variants of concern, but they are more easily transmissible. (The Canadian Press/Mike Thomas - image credit)
Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. Hanley says there is 'nothing magical' about COVID-19 variants of concern, but they are more easily transmissible. (The Canadian Press/Mike Thomas - image credit)

Yukon's top doctor says the arrival of COVID-19 variants of concern in the territory means there is now "less room for error" when it comes to following public health guidelines.

"Our importation risk of variants does increase as Canada goes through, or at least some of the provinces appear to be going through, new surges in cases," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley.

"Importation of cases will increase, which means more and more people just need to do the right thing."

On Thursday, the territorial government announced the first cases of COVID-19 variants of concern had been identified in Yukon. The two cases are unrelated, Hanley said.

One of the affected people is a Yukon resident who lives in Whitehorse, and officials said the case is linked to international travel. The person followed federal processes for international arrivals, including testing for COVID-19 when they arrived in Canada.

The second new case is a non-Yukon resident who arrived in the territory on Sunday. Officials say another jurisdiction contacted Yukon Communicable Disease Control and relayed that the person tested positive for B117 and is linked to an outbreak in another jurisdiction.

Hanley would not say how that second person was able to travel to Yukon after a positive COVID test.

"I think there was probably some, perhaps some communication difficulties or lapses in that other jurisdiction," Hanley said. "The end result is that the person did the right thing in terms of abiding by what was supposed to happen in Yukon."

Hanley said the risk to Yukoners from either case is considered low, and there has not been evidence of any exposure to other Yukoners.

"We did know this is coming because these variants are doing as variants do. They will become the dominant strains. So this is the new COVID, you might say," Hanley said on Friday morning.

He also said there is "nothing magical" about variants of concern, but they are more easily transmissible.

"That means there's less room for error in how we follow public health measures," Hanley said.

Of the two new cases, only one — the Yukon resident — is added to the territory's cumulative case count. It is Yukon's 73rd case of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and the first one confirmed in more than a month. It was also confirmed almost exactly a year after Yukon's first cases were announced.