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Nov. 28, 2021 | Sunday
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More contagious variants likely on the rise, top doctor says
File photo/Rene Bertschi

Niagara's chief medical officer is worried the B.1.617 and P.1 variants of COVID-19 are on the rise in the region.

Looking at available variant data, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said confirmed cases of P.1 have risen from two to seven, while other variants have stayed relatively similar.

The problem is the screening test can't properly identify variants, he told a news conference Monday. While screening tests can identify whether a virus is either the P.1 variant or B.1.351 variant, further analysis is required to determine which of those variants it is.

And the process isn't quick. The province is testing samples, he said.  

However, even without knowing for sure, he said the increase in confirmed cases is evidence the P.1 variant is becoming the dominant strain in Niagara, as it has across the rest of the country.

"It is definitely a concern, though, that we do have this variant around because we know this variant is associated with more severe illness," Hirji said.

There is also a concern the B.1.617 variant could be starting to take over cases here as well. There currently is no screening test that can determine a B.1.617 variant.

However, there is evidence to show it is here, in that data is starting to show variant cases decline. Hirji suspects this decline could be the B.1.617 variant, which can't be tested for yet.

He said in one month, variant cases in Ontario have gone from 94 per cent of total cases to 88 per cent.

"One potential explanation is that somehow the non-variants are starting to grow again as compared to the variants — doesn't make a lot of sense because the variants spread more easily than non-variants. What I think is actually happening here is that we don't have a screening test for the B.1.617 variant in Ontario. We're a little bit blind to what's happening with it," Hirji said.

"I think it is growing, it's not being picked up as a variant because we can't screen for it, and it is the reason that we're seeing the other variants coming down, because it's starting to replace those variants, because it is taking over a greater proportion of cases here."

He suspects about seven per cent of cases are now B.1.617 and predicts that in about six weeks it could represent as much as 50 per cent of cases.

In Niagara, he said about 100 per cent of cases were variants, but now data shows a sharp drop in those cases, which Hirji said is likely to be the undetectable B.1.617.

Because of the risk, he said reopening needs to happen cautiously and he recommended the province extend the stay-at-home order until June 14.

 

 

 

 

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