Two recent cases of COVID-19 identified in Yukon are the territory's first involving the P1 variant of concern, health officials said on Wednesday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley made that announcement during his weekly update on Wednesday morning.
He confirmed one new case — the territory's 76th. It follows another new case announced on Monday. Both are considered active, and one has been confirmed as the P1 variant while the other is presumed to be.
Hanley said the two cases are part of a family household cluster in Whitehorse that was linked to a family group who recently travelled into the territory.
Recent exposure notices are also related to that family cluster, though Hanley said the individual connected to those exposure notices had not been required to self-isolate.
Officials have issued several potential exposure notices in recent days, including three Whitehorse locations identified late Tuesday afternoon.
"We are looking at some options for … how we might tighten or recommend tightening of requirements," Hanley said about the territory's self-isolation rules. But he said those considerations are not directly related to the recent cases or exposure notices.
Right now, most people entering Yukon is required to self-isolate for 14 days. Officials also recommend that other people sharing a household with someone self-isolating should also isolate, but it is not a requirement.
Watch Wednesday's news conference:
'Obviously' concerned about P1
The P1 variant was first discovered in Japan, in four travellers who had returned from Brazil. As such, it is often associated with Brazil. Like B117, the P1 variant is a mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and spreads quicker than the original strain.
The P1 variant has been spreading elsewhere in Canada, and its arrival in Yukon is a concern, Hanley said.
"There is relatively little known about the P1 variant compared to the others," Hanley said. "We were obviously concerned about P1 coming to Yukon."
Hanley said that the same public health measures now in place in Yukon can be effective against any spread of variants.
If we were to open the lid and let COVID-19 into the territory without measures in place, we could lose control. - Dr. Brendan Hanley, Chief Public Health Officer
He also acknowledged that little is known about how effective the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine — the only COVID-19 vaccine used in Yukon — might be against the P1 variant.
Hanley said Yukon has been fortunate to "remain relatively open" even as other parts of Canada experience lockdowns and tightened restrictions.
"As the variants spread and cases surge in Canada, I'm sure there are those who wonder if these more restrictive measures will come here," Hanley said.
"We do have plans in place if things were to become worse. If we started to see hospitalizations and community spread, we may have to take additional steps."
Can't rely on just vaccination
Meantime, the territory's vaccination rollout is continuing, with 24,701 people, or 70 per cent of the eligible population, having received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine as of Tuesday afternoon. Of those, 17,653, or 49 per cent of the eligible population, had also received their second jab.
Hanley called that rate of vacccination "an astounding accomplishment," but said it's not yet good enough.
"This COVID virus has never been too forgiving, and the variants even less so," he said.
He said younger adults in Yukon are still being vaccinated at a lower rate than older Yukoners. There are still too many in the territory who are non-immune, Hanley said.
"COVID-19 could easily circulate and cause harm," he said. "And with variants, of course that threat is more pressing just because of the … increased transmission ability that variants have."
He said it's still not yet time to ease restrictions.
"If we were to open the lid and let COVID-19 into the territory without measures in place, we could lose control," Hanley said. "We cannot yet rely just on vaccination."