Ontario identifies first cases of COVID-19 U.K. variant in the province

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Ontario announced on Saturday its first two confirmed cases in the province of the COVID-19 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom.

Ontario is the first province to identify the new COVID-19 variant.

The confirmed cases identified are from a couple from Durham Region with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said in a news release on Saturday. Durham Region is east of Toronto.

Both individuals have been informed and are now in self-isolation as per public health protocols, it said.

"This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today," Yaffe said.

"Durham Region Health Department has conducted case and contact investigation and Ontario is working in collaboration with our federal counterparts at the Public Health Agency of Canada."

The variant has now been detected in multiple countries beyond Britain, including Denmark, Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands.

With inbound international travel, it is not unexpected to have identified the new variant in Ontario, the news release said.

No evidence new variant more severe: PHAC

The federal government currently has a monitoring program in place with the provinces and territories to identify new COVID-19 variants in the country, such as the ones identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

"While early data suggests that these new variants may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that they cause more severe disease or have any impact on antibody response or vaccine effectiveness," the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in a statement on Saturday.

"More research is required to confirm these findings, and the Canadian and global medical, public health and research communities are actively evaluating these mutations."

As monitoring continues, PHAC says it is expected that other cases of this variant, along with other variants of concern, will be found in Canada.

"Furthermore, as these two cases did not travel outside of Canada, it is important to follow public health measures and limit contacts with others, to reduce the transmission of the virus and any of its variants in communities," it said.

"Recognizing the potential increased risk that inbound international travellers may pose with this new variant, the province continues to call on the federal government to urgently partner with Ontario to implement testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport."

Earlier this week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the federal government wasn't doing enough to protect Ontario from international travellers, suggesting they're a problematic source of COVID-19 spread in the province.

However, based on the provincial government's own statistics, travel-related COVID-19 cases represent a small number of infections.

"Regardless of whether federal support is forthcoming, the Ontario government is prepared to act on its own to implement an airport testing program," the news release said.

Ontario under provincewide lockdown starting Saturday

Ontario entered a provincewide lockdown at 12:01 a.m. on Boxing Day in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The province has reported more than 2,000 cases 12 days in a row, including 2,142 new positive tests on Saturday and 2,159 cases on Christmas Day.

During those days, Ontario reported 81 additional deaths.

The new measures mean restaurants in the province can only provide takeout and delivery.