Nunavut confirms first cases of COVID-19 variant first identified in U.K.

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut has confirmed its first cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, but the territory's chief public health officer says following strict public-health measures will curb its spread.

Twenty-one swabs came back from testing in southern Canada and all were positive for the variant known as B.1.1.7, Dr. Michael Patterson said Monday.

He said although the variant spreads more quickly than the original COVID-19 virus, the Moderna vaccine — the only one available in Nunavut — is effective against it.

Iqaluit, a city of about 8,000, is under a strict lockdown. All schools, non-essential businesses and workplaces are closed. Social gatherings are banned.

"Fortunately, our current restrictions are enough to control the spread of the variant if people take the restrictions seriously," Patterson said.

All non-essential travel in and out of the capital is prohibited, although there are exceptions for medical travellers and essential workers.

Patterson urged residents to get vaccinated because it's the territory's "best defence against COVID-19."

"If you're sick, it's not your fault. If you passed it on, it's not your fault. The virus is invisible ... This is not about blame. This is about protecting our loved ones."

The Health Department has issued a notice asking everyone who attended the Chartroom Lounge, a sports bar in Iqaluit, on April 14 to immediately isolate and get tested for COVID-19.

Patterson said it was karaoke night at the bar and the event has met the definition of a super-spreader, because it accounts for just over 20 per cent of Iqaluit's cases.

To date, 15,163 people in the territory of about 40,000 have received one dose of the vaccine and 12,181 have had both doses.

There were nine new cases and nine recoveries in the territory Monday. That meant the active case count stood at 47 — with 42 of those infections in Iqaluit.

Patterson said more than 100 high-risk contacts had been found through contact tracing.

He also said the lab in Iqaluit is processing over 100 COVID-19 tests a day. Before the outbreak, that number was between 10 and 20, he said.

Over the weekend, two cases were confirmed in Rankin Inlet in people who had travelled from Iqaluit on a Canadian North flight. There are also three active cases in Kinngait, a community of about 1,500, connected to the Iqaluit outbreak.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press