'We'll have to watch closely': Sask. physician urging caution with the introduction of the P.1 variant
REGINA -- A Saskatchewan public health physician is urging residents to take COVID-19 precautions even more seriously, now that P.1 variant cases have been confirmed in the province.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, who is a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said Saskatchewan is seeing more COVID-19 cases right now because the variants of concern are more transmissible.
“The P.1 variant can be spread more easily, one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times as likely to transmit. And (it) seems like it can cause more serious illnesses in younger people, that’s still being looked at,” said Dr. Neudorf.
On Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan reported it confirmed five P.1 variant cases, initially detected in Brazil, in the province, specifically located in the Southwest zone.
Dr. Neudorf said there is some data to suggest the P.1 variant may be able to evade the immune system if you’ve been infected with COVID-19 before.
“So, reinfection with COVID-19 is more likely,” he said. “Whether or not that has an implication on reducing vaccine effectiveness is also something that we're looking at.”
Due to its appearance across Canada, Dr. Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said it was inevitable the P.1. would eventually be identified in Saskatchewan.
"This is going to be something we'll have to watch closely, especially until such time that we have high vaccination rates and our COVID case numbers come to very low levels," Dr. Shahab said on Tuesday.
The majority of Saskatchewan’s variant cases remain the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K. A few weeks ago, a cluster of the B1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, was detected in the North Central zone. Dr. Shahab said those cases were quickly contained after an investigation by public health.
Dr. Neudorf said it’s too soon to say if the P.1 variant cases will be an isolated cluster, like the B1.351 cases, or if it will spread further like the B.1.1.7 variant cases.
“I’m feeling that, even if we’re able to contain this one cluster, that doesn’t mean we’ve kept P.1 out, because it’s become the predominant strain in B.C. and Alberta,” said Dr. Neudorf. “So, it’s more likely to say it’s a matter of when, not if, that this (variant) will gain a foothold in the province as well.”
Dr. Neudorf said residents need to be behaving more like they were last April, as the pandemic is not over.
“We need people to take those precautions very seriously now that this (variant) transmits even easier than the other one,” said Dr. Neudorf. “There is still time to put more restrictions in place in the rest of the province, to blunt this third wave and get us there to reopening in the summer safer.”
Premier Scott Moe said vaccines are controlling the spread of the P.1 variant in other areas of Canada, and Saskatchewan’s vaccination rate really meters in the days ahead.
“Regardless of which variant it is, it's all COVID, and it all seems to be - as far as latest results go - controlled quite well by the vaccines,” said Moe.
The premier also added the current COVID-19 restrictions - which have been extended until May 10 - will also help curb the spread of the virus and it’s variants.