The new strain of coronavirus has been discovered in Canada, as public health officials warn the United States may have failed to detect the more infectious variant.
Two cases of the Sars-Cov-2 variant first streak in UK were identified in Canada on Saturday, after being found in countries through Europe, Japan and Australia. The Canadian patients had not traveled to the UK, making it likely that the new strain is spreading in the community.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, said the discovery “further strengthens the need for Ontarians to stay at home whenever possible” as the Canadian province began its shutdown on Saturday.
The new strain – which some scientists fear is up to 70% more transmissible – has yet to be discovered in the United States, which has led the Trump administration to require visitors from UK to be tested from Monday.
But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the country had not done enough genetic sequencing of the virus to be sure it was not already circulating.
“Given the small fraction of sequenced US infections, the variant could already be in the US undetected,” the agency said on its website.
The United States has only sequenced the virus that has infected about 51,000 of the 17 million people who tested positive for Covid-19, the CDC said. In contrast, the UK has carried out much more extensive genomic surveillance, sequencing nearly 10% of all positive tests, according to the latest analysis from the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, which used data until mid- November.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, said the travel restrictions were “too little too late”.
“It’s likely that this variant is already here and we just haven’t detected it yet,” she tweeted. “Why? The dismal state of genomic surveillance in the United States. This is a major weakness that we must correct.”
The new variant of the virus appeared in Kent, in the south-east of England, at the end of September. By the end of the week of December 9, it accounted for 62% of infections in London.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease physician in the United States, said the mutations were still “of concern,” but tried to appease the American public by saying there was no evidence that it seemed to lead to more serious illness.
“The other problem is, does it escape the protection induced by the vaccines we are currently using?” And, according to our British colleagues, that doesn’t appear to be the case, ”he told CNN. State of the Union on Sunday.