Hinshaw to give Alberta COVID-19 update Wednesday as NDP calls for action to contain variants

Alberta’s NDP is calling for more action from the provincial government on how it will manage the COVID-19 variants initially detected in the U.K. and South Africa if they begin spreading locally.

So far, all of the variant cases that have been detected in the province have been travel-related, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said in her update Tuesday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that as of this weekend, Alberta health officials had identified 12 cases of the variant of COVID-19 first discovered in the U.K., and two cases of the variant that was first identified in South Africa.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 456 cases of COVID-19, 17 deaths Tuesday' Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 456 cases of COVID-19, 17 deaths Tuesday

Coronavirus: Alberta identifies 456 cases of COVID-19, 17 deaths Tuesday

Hinshaw is expected to update Alberta’s COVID-19 situation again on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m., earlier than she normally does.

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Her update will be streamed live in this story post.

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 positivity rate declining but health system still under ‘severe strain’: Hinshaw

On Tuesday, NDP critic for health, David Shepherd, said while the lowering case numbers in Alberta are a sign of success, there needs to be a contingency plan in place to contain the variants if they do start to spread.

“The arrival of new variants in COVID-19 in Alberta does present a risk to that continuing success,” Shepherd said.

“Albertans deserve to know that the province has a proactive and transparent plan to manage and mitigate that risk.”

Read more: Community spread of new COVID-19 variants may be happening in Canada: Tam

The NDP laid out four requests to the UCP government that it believes are necessary to protect the province from the variants:

  • Give daily reporting of testing and new cases related to variants
  • Increase genetic sequencing of positive cases of COVID-19 to 10 per cent
  • Present Albertans with a “detailed and transparent” plan to contain the variants if they should spread locally
  • Bring officials into the daily briefings who can answer specific questions related to the variants in Alberta

Dr. Graham Tipples, the medical-scientific director of Alberta Precision Laboratories, said Wednesday that the province has so far done genetic sequencing on about 4,000 different virus samples since the pandemic began, but is hoping to increase that number.

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“With the emergence of some of these variants of concern… we’re actually just getting going on the process of setting up better, more rapid screening tests to detect those,” Tipples said.

“It’s very much an evolving thing, and who you’re targeting for the testing and how you’re going about it. Obviously right now a key group is returning travellers, returning international travellers.”

Tipples said that is is “not surprising” that travellers have tested positive for the variant.

In the U.K., the country implemented a full-scale lockdown in early January after the new variant led to a “frustrating and alarming” rate of spread, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Read more: U.K. imposes new national lockdown as coronavirus and new variant spread rapidly

The highly contagious U.K. strain is on track to become the dominant circulating variant in the U.S. by March, according to American health officials. 

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Inside the hunt for new COVID-19 variants in Canada' Coronavirus: Inside the hunt for new COVID-19 variants in Canada

Coronavirus: Inside the hunt for new COVID-19 variants in Canada

The new U.K. variant is believed to be roughly 56 per cent more transmissible than the main coronavirus strain circulating.

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–with files from Amanda Connelly, Global News

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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