(Eduardo Verdugo/The Associated Press file photo - image credit)
The province has confirmed that the coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. has been detected on P.E.I.
Premier Dennis King and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison made the announcement during a briefing on Saturday.
Morrison says it was found in connection with a case announced on Feb. 4. The result came back from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg Friday evening.
"Each time we hear of one of these COVID firsts, it's difficult news to digest," King said.
"We've been bracing for this reality, this news is not unexpected."
The case is a man in his 20s who had travelled internationally. He arrived in Charlottetown on Feb. 1 on Air Canada Flight 8302 from Montreal.
Morrison said the man did what was required by going into self-isolation, where he remains, as soon as he arrived in the province. He has no close contacts, as he isolated from others.
Other passengers on that flight should have also been self-isolating in accordance with public health requirements, and had been previously advised to be tested upon the first sign of symptoms.
Testing 'out of an abundance of caution'
On Saturday, Morrison said several passengers from the flight would be tested by mobile units Saturday afternoon. Passengers tested this morning had negative results.
"Out of an abundance of caution, last night and today, we are following up with everyone on the Feb. 1 evening flight from Montreal to Charlottetown," Morrison said.
As part of P.E.I.'s standard self-isolation procedures, which require travellers like rotational workers to be tested, Morrison said many of those passengers were already tested this week.
This is a great reminder for us not to take our fortunate and unique P.E.I. situation for granted. As we have seen in other provinces, things can change quickly. — Premier Dennis King
Four passengers on that flight have since left the province, but Morrison said they have been advised to get tested.
The paramedics who tested the positive case and the screeners at the airport have also been tested, and received negative results.
"At this point, there is no indication the variant strain of COVID-19 has spread within our province," Morrison said.
No change to public health guidance, vaccination plan
All of P.E.I.'s positive COVID-19 samples are sent on to the lab in Winnipeg for sequencing, and Morrison said the variant strain was detected upon routine testing.
"We have been in discussion with Nova Scotia, who right now has also been sending their positive cases to the [national lab]. They are hoping that they will be able to do some of the sequencing in Nova Scotia," she said.
"We may be able to use that ability in Nova Scotia, so that would shorten the turnaround time on the sequencing once that starts. Those discussions were actually underway before yesterday."
Morrison said it took about eight days for this result to come back from Manitoba and localized genetic sequencing in Nova Scotia would be faster, with the ability to flag samples as urgent.
She also echoed the premier's comments around the variant strain not being unexpected.
"It has been previously identified in all other provinces," Morrison said.
"Variants of concern are worrisome because we know they are more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19. It is estimated that the variants are between 30 and 80 per cent more contagious, meaning that if it is not contained, they will result in exponential spread."
The B117 variant has also been the source of an ongoing outbreak in Newfoundland and Labrador, where hundreds of cases have been announced this week.
"With the arrival of the variant, we will be more resolute in our efforts to protect Islanders from these highly contagious strains of COVID-19," Morrison said.
The Chief Public Health Officer said the province is not changing any public health guidelines at this time, but she said that the detection of the variant confirms that the province's surveillance strategy is working.
"The U.K. variant is COVID-19. While it's a more contagious variant, it is a variation of the virus we have been fighting since Day 1," King said.
"The best and only way to contain the spread is to continue to do what Islanders have been doing for so long, and that is to follow public health measures.
"This is a great reminder for us not to take our fortunate and unique P.E.I. situation for granted. As we have seen in other provinces, things can change quickly."
Morrison said she also does not believe the arrival of the variant strains will affect the province's vaccination plan, as the mRNA vaccines still have good coverage against B117.
P.E.I. has had 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic with two cases remaining active.
More from CBC P.E.I.