About 35 per cent of the active cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick are variants, figures from the Department of Health show.
The proportion of these highly transmissible variants is expected to quickly climb in the coming days, overtaking the original strain within weeks, according to the province's chief medical officer of health.
Of the 140 active cases of COVID-19 in the province Thursday, 49 are variants, including two new cases in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, of the variant first detected in South Africa, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
The Saint John region, Zone 2, also has two cases of that variant, while the remainder of the variant cases in the province are of the one first reported in the U.K. These cases are spread across the province, with the exception of the Campbellton region, Zone 5, she said.
"We are presuming that all new cases are variants of concern, whether it's U.K., South African or the Brazil variant," Russell told reporters during Thursday's COVID update.
New Brunswick has not recorded a case of the P1 variant, first discovered in Brazil, yet, she added.
The dominant variant right now is the U.K. one, said Russell, noting it has represented 63 per cent of the cases in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, between March 1 and April 15.
In the U.K., it took about 10 weeks for it to take over, she said. "So we do expect to see that and are seeing that now.
"But with each progressive variant of concern that is aggressive … it's hard to tell at this point in time how that's going to unfold."
90% of samples last week were variants
About 90 per cent of the virus samples analyzed at the provincial lab in Moncton last week were variants, according to Dr. Richard Garceau, a microbiologist-infectious disease specialist and head of the lab at the Dr-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.
The lab is just days or weeks away from being able to independently test for variants, instead of sending samples to the national lab in Winnipeg, which will cut down on wait times, said Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte.
It has started to sequence the COVID samples in parallel with the national lab to ensure the quality of its analysis, he said.
The results from the national lab can take about a week.
A total of 184 cases have been confirmed as variants, to date: 180 U.K. and four South African ones, said Russell.
The majority of the U.K. cases, 135, have since recovered, she said.