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Saskatchewan’s death toll rises by 4; 2nd coronavirus variant detected

The provincial government announced on Tuesday that Saskatchewan’s total of confirmed COVID-19 variant cases increased by three to six and another is presumptive.

Two more cases of B.1.1.7 — which was first discovered in the United Kingdom — have been detected among Regina zone residents, according to a press release. Officials said the two were tested at the end of January and there is no link to travel at this time but public health is investigating.

One person in north central was also tested at the end of January, which resulted in the province’s first case of B1.351, first discovered in South Africa, according to the release.

The government said there is a presumptive case of B1.1.7 in a person who was transferred from out-of-province to Saskatoon for acute care. They added whole-genome sequencing will need to be completed to confirm the results.

“We were fully expecting to see variants of concern, both travel-related and non-travel related. We had seen three … and now we have seen a further three not linked to travel,” Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said.

“At this point, there’s no indication that a variant of concern was identified as a result of an outbreak investigation. But if it was, then there may be some further more extensive testing that may be required.”

According to the release, if required, public health will alert the general public to any risk due to any confirmed case of a variant of concern.

“At a local level, if there was an increase in transmission, irrespective of whether it was initially identified to be a variant of concern or not, there may be a need for more specific and more stringent local public health measures and similarly for other variants of concern,” Shahab said.

“As they emerge, we’ll continue to monitor what are the specific characteristics and if any, public health measures need any further adjustment.

“But, nevertheless, all the actions we have to take all the time to prevent transmission of COVID in the first place … We shouldn’t wait for it to be diagnosed as variant of concern to take any further action. So, doing all these things consistently, meticulously is the most important way to keep any COVID transmission rates low, including any variant of concern that may become established in Canada and Saskatchewan.”

The province said the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory (RPPL) in Regina tests travellers for variants of concern, but those tests must be genome-sequenced at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Manitoba and the process can take two weeks.

“At the moment, up to six per cent of samples are screened for variants of concern by referring them to NML and all travel-related cases, outbreaks cases and persons under 50 in ICU, as well as random sampling. A subset of that are sent for genotyping,” Shahab said.

“Having that capacity in-house will help us increase the proportion that we can screen. It will also shorten the time it takes to get the results from one to two weeks to a few days.”

Premier Scott Moe also spoke on Tuesday during a COVID-19 briefing and said RRPL is working to increase its capacity to complete genome sequencing in Saskatchewan.

“With respect to identifying variants sooner, the Roy Romanow lab is going through the very same certification process for the variants as we did. If you think back about 10 or 11 months, they went through a certification process to become certified to test the COVID virus-positive cases itself,” Moe said.

“That process does take a period of time working with the lab in Winnipeg and so that process is underway and I would expect that we would be able to identify variants at the Roy Romanow lab within the province of Saskatchewan sometime in early March.”

Four more people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, bringing Saskatchewan’s total deaths related to the pandemic up to 376. Health officials said three of the recently deceased were reported in the 80-plus age group from the Regina (2) and Saskatoon (1) zones while the other was in their 70s and from Regina.

According to the government on Tuesday, there were 122 new cases with the overall infection total in Saskatchewan now at 27,923. The new seven-day average of daily cases is down to 156.

The province’s hospitals are currently providing care for 174 patients with COVID-19 — 158 are receiving inpatient care and 16 are in intensive care.

Active cases, which are total cases minus recoveries and deaths, now sit at 1,530 in Saskatchewan, according to the press release.

The number of people who have recovered from the virus has grown to a total of 26,017 following 244 more recoveries, provincial health officials said.

According to the press release, 1,872 COVID-19 tests were performed on Monday. To date, 563,055 tests have been carried out in the province.

A total of 19,795 second doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saskatchewan, provincial government officials said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

Find full COVID-19 coverage on the Global News coronavirus page.

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