A man waits to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal on March 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A man waits to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal on March 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Variant first detected in Brazil concerning in Canada: here’s what we know about P.1

As of April 1, there have been 483 cases of the P.1 variant across Canada, with the majority of them in B.C.

From an outbreak on a Canadian NHL team to clusters of cases detected in Alberta, parts of Canada have been seeing skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers that are possibly linked to variants of concern over the last several weeks.

While most variant cases in the country have stemmed from the B.1.1.7 variety first detected in the United Kingdom, troubling outbreaks of the P.1 variant, which was first identified in Brazil, are starting to emerge with more frequency.

As of April 1, there have been 483 cases of the P.1 variant across the country, with the majority of them — 379 — in B.C., Health Canada says. There have been 10,856 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and 313 of the variant first detected in South Africa.

Public Health Ontario’s latest epidemiological report shows a total of 103 P.1 cases in the province, including one new case identified over the weekend.

Maria Sundaram, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, says the growing number of variant cases is concerning. And while P.1 has gained more prevalence in the west recently, that’s not to say the rest of the country shouldn’t be on guard.

“All of the identified variants of concern seem to have (qualities) that are very bad news for us in terms of pandemic control,” she said.

“The numbers are a little bit higher in B.C., but … things can turn on a dime.”

READ MORE: Canada’s total COVID-19 case count surpasses one million

Here’s what we know about the P1 variant:

WHAT IS IT, AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM OTHER VARIANTS OF CONCERN?

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the P.1 variant has 17 unique mutations, including three on the part of the spike protein that binds to cells when we become infected.

Those mutations, on what’s called the spike protein’s “receptor binding domain,” are causing the most concern, says infectious disease doctor Ilan Schwartz.

Schwartz, a researcher at the University of Alberta, says the mutations allow the virus to bind more efficiently to cells when it enters the body, and may also interfere with the ability of antibodies — produced from prior infection or from vaccines — to recognize the variant form.

HOW MUCH MORE TRANSMISSIBLE IS IT?

Experts say the variants first detected in the U.K. and South Africa are roughly 50 per cent more transmissible than the earlier form of the virus, which is known as the “wild type.” But they still aren’t sure how contagious P.1 is compared to the others.

The data on P.1 is still new, Sundaram says, but what’s more concerning is the idea that this variant could reinfect those who have already had COVID-19.

A study from Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon region, found that the P.1 variant was identified in 42 per cent of cases sequenced there from late December, even though approximately 75 per cent of the region’s population had previously been infected.

“We’re talking about people who should have been protected by their own immune system with a response from the actual pathogen itself,” Sundaram said.

The latest weekly global epidemiological report from the World Health Organization (WHO) listed Brazil as the biggest hot spot for new cases with 533,024 for the week ending March 28. The country, which has the P.1 variant as the dominant strain, reported 508,000 cases the week before.

WHERE IS THE VARIANT CIRCULATING IN CANADA?

The P.1 variant has been detected across Canada, but the most recent clusters have appeared out west in B.C. and Alberta.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Twitter Monday that an outbreak involving P.1 cases in the province appears to be linked to a large employer with multiple sites across Western Canada.

Hinshaw said three of the 26 cases linked to those sites are confirmed to be the P.1 variant, but she added that number is likely to increase as more results come in.

A separate P.1 case was identified in a five-case outbreak at a Calgary zone workplace, Hinshaw said.

In B.C., meanwhile, top doctor Bonnie Henry said last week a large cluster of P.1 cases in the Whistler region had been contained. Though a small number had spread beyond Whistler, Henry said those cases were being watched closely.

An outbreak among the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks has also reportedly involved the P.1 variant, though the team and league have not confirmed that.

Sixteen of the Canucks’ 22 players were on the NHL’s COVID protocol list as of Monday afternoon.

Not all players on that list have necessarily tested positive. The list also includes players who must self-isolate after being a close contact with a confirmed case or for travel reasons.

DOES THE VARIANT CAUSE MORE SEVERE DISEASE?

Schwartz says it’s likely that P.1 may result in more serious disease, and that younger people could be more susceptible to a severe outcome with that variant compared to the “wild type” of the virus Canada has mostly been dealing with up until now.

He adds, however, that data on P.1 is “quite preliminary” compared to B.1.1.7, which is also showing an increased chance of more severe infections.

“We’ve been aware of this variant for a shorter amount of time, and because the data that’s been generated hasn’t been quite as robust, we still don’t know for sure,” he said. “But this is certainly our concern.

“In a lot of ways, (P.1) sort of has a full house of weaponry.”

WHAT IMPLICATIONS DOES THIS VARIANT HAVE FOR THE VACCINES?

Sundaram says research suggests the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna lose some effectiveness against the P.1 variant, though that’s not to say they won’t work at all.

She noted those results were based on lab studies.

But the higher the prevalence of variant cases, the more worried she becomes.

“When we start to see this uptick, and we look at this concurrent potential reduction in vaccine protectiveness … it really becomes a very concerning scenario,” she said. “We need more information to identify exactly to what per cent vaccine efficacy (drops) in real-world scenarios, but it seems quite likely that it will.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The proposed renovations at the Quesnel Rec Centre. (CRD Drawing)
CRD approves Quesnel pool referendum date

Voters will be asked to approve borrowing $20 million to upgrade Quesnel Rec Centre

CNC’s Applied Research and Innovation had partnered with the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cariboo Agricultural Research Alliance and Mackin Creek Farm after receiving funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to research a number of solutions potentially extending northern growing seasons. (Photo submitted)
Ways to extend growing season in B.C.’s north explored by College of New Caledonia in Quesnel

Low-cost supplemental LED lighting appears to benefit plant growth

Ecosystem restoration burn planned northwest of Quesnel near Neewa Creek

Burning will take place between April 19 and 30, 2021

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Since April 4, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Vancouver the largest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases: data

This month alone, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Most Read