(Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/ - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe says the current Saskatchewan public health measures are effective against COVID-19 variants Tuesday after three more variant cases were found in the province.
"It was never if we were going to have variants arrive in Saskatchewan, it was when," Premier Scott Moe said at a news conference on Tuesday.
"The existing public health orders are effective with variants as they are effective with the original COVID-19 virus that we have."
A total of seven people have been found to have either a variant first detected in the U.K. or a variant first detected in South Africa. Variant strains of the virus are of special concern to health officials because they may spread more easily than the original strain.
The U.K. variant was found in two Regina residents with no link to travel. A public health investigation is ongoing.
The South Africa variant was found in a person in the province's north central zone. The province didn't say if there is a link to travel.
A person in Saskatoon has a presumptive case of the U.K. variant. The person was transferred from out of province to Saskatoon for acute care.
Moe said the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory in Regina is going through certification at the moment to be able to process variant genome sequencing tests. Moe said he anticipates being able to test for variants within the province by early March.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said six per cent of samples — as well as travel related cases — are screened for the variants. Having the testing done in the province should bring wait times for results down from two weeks to a few days, he said.
Shahab said it's also easier to test a higher proportion of cases for the variant when case numbers are lower. He said it's important people follow health measures.
"We've obviously seen in the U.K. over a period of two to three months, the variants of concern became the predominant strain in the U.K., especially initially in the southeast of England and London, even though they were in a lockdown," Shahab said.
"We have to remember that everything that is so important in preventing transmission remains as important or more important with variants of concern."
Shahab said if there is a large increase in variant cases in a city, then more stringent localized public health measures may need to be put in place.