COVID-19 variants: Everything you need to know

Adapting the vaccines to the new variants will require steady supply and remaining diligent about tracking where the new strains are popping up. (Courtesy of AP Photos)

As the pandemic continues, the past few weeks have seen the development of information surrounding variants of COVID-19. 

Scientists and researchers are working hard to find out more details about the variants, including how quickly they spread, their severity, and how effective the current vaccine will be in combating them. 

There are three primary variants currently circulating globally, originating from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa, respectively. The U.K. variant poses the biggest threat to Ontario, with 51 cases in the province reported on January 29. Yesterday, York Region’s municipality confirmed an additional 39 cases.

Data has shown the variant appears to be 56 per cent more contagious than standard COVID-19 strains in Britain, and 30 per cent more transmissible here. All three of the variants have been found in the U.S., but at this time, only the U.K. and South African strains have been seen in Canada. 

“The fact that the new strain is a lot more contagious is definitely worrisome. I’m really hoping the vaccine will still be able to get ahead of it, and that we aren’t in store for a whole new host of problems coming up,” says Jay Choski, a third-year sociology student. 

Viruses are known to constantly change through mutation, but the speed at which it is spreading is concerning as hospitals and healthcare resources are already overrun. 

Ontario currently sits in Phase One of the vaccination process, meaning inoculation is occurring only for high-priority groups such as hospital workers, seniors in long-term care homes, and Indigenous communities. But, as Ontario cases touch past 270,000 and frustrations over vaccine supplies grow, mounting pressure is on the Ford government to ameliorate the situation. 

“People across the province are staying home and helping to limit the spread of this deadly virus, and their actions are starting to make a difference,” said Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott. “However, the U.K. variant is now making its way into our communities and putting Ontario’s pandemic response at risk.”

To combat the issues brought on by the variant, the Ontario government has devised a six-point plan that is meant to continue and enhance the coordination efforts made by the government to “detect, track, trace, and contain COVID-19”. 

Points in the plan include the mandatory testing of travellers, enhanced screening and sequencing, continuation of public health measures, strengthening case and contact management, protecting vulnerable populations, and leveraging data. This is compounded with the federal government’s recent updates to travel restrictions. 

“I think the government’s plan is a good continuation of efforts. I just hope it works well enough to the point where we can see some tangible results, such as case numbers dropping and lockdowns being slightly let up,” says Mustafa Hasan, a second-year political science student. 

In terms of how effective the current vaccines will be in treating the variants, it’s hard to conclude just yet. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, offered some positive insight. 

“The ability to adapt the vaccines to these new variants means we can probably stay on top of this, but it’s going to require strong vaccine supply and proper surveillance to understand where these new variants are popping up,” said Brown. 

As the rollercoaster ride that is COVID-19 continues and elements of uncertainty linger, it is key to remember that at this time, the safest things we can do for ourselves and those around us are to maintain social distancing, wear our masks, and only venture outside for essential trips. 

On February 2, Ontario reported 745 new COVID-19 cases and 14 more deaths, a significant decrease from Monday’s 1,969 cases.

About the Author

Shivam Sachdeva

By Shivam Sachdeva

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

Shivam is a driven undergraduate Political Science student with a penchant for health, wellness, and communicating it to people. He believes living a healthy life equates to a happy life, and rejoices in learning all kinds of new health facts that can practically improve people's wellbeing. As his experience with professional writing continues to grow, he hopes to pursue a career in either journalism or law. When Shivam is not writing, you can likely find him working out, playing tennis, hanging out with friends or wasting endless hours going down YouTube rabbit holes.

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