Published Saturday, December 26, 2020 3:43PM EST
In a news release issued Saturday, the Ministry of Health said the cases are a couple from Durham Region with no known travel history, exposure, or high-risk contacts. Both individuals are now in self-isolation.
"This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today," Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.
Ontario is the first province in Canada to identify the variant, according to the ministry. The new strain has been reported in other countries, including Denmark, Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands.
While studies suggest the variant can spread easier and faster, the ministry said there is no evidence at this time that it is more likely to cause severe illness.
The ministry also noted that there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines will be any less effective against the new strain.
"With inbound international travel, it is not unexpected to have identified the new variant in Ontario," the ministry said.
"Recognizing the potential increased risk that inbound international travellers may pose with this new variant, the province continues to call on the federal government to urgently partner with Ontario to implement testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport."
After the variant was detected, Canada posted a travel ban on all flights arriving from the U.K. until Jan. 6.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said it has a national monitoring program in place to identify the new variants of COVID-19 and expects that more cases of the new strain may be found in the country.
“As these two cases did not travel outside of Canada, it is important to follow public health measures and limit contacts with others, to reduce the transmission of the virus and any of its variants in communities. The best way to prevent infection with any variant of COVID-19 is to follow public health measures,” the federal agency said in a statement.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said it was just a matter of time as the variant has been circulating in the U.K. as early as September, and global travel continues despite tighter restrictions.
"This is probably one of those scenarios where the more you look, the more you find. Canada looked, and now Canada found some," Bogoch said in an interview with CP24.
Given that the cases had no known travel history, he said more data is needed to determine how the two people were infected with the new variant.
Bogoch noted that the discovery of the new strain in the province does not change anything, especially at the individual level.
"You're still going to put on a mask when you go indoors. You're still going to practice physical distancing, and you should still get the vaccine when it becomes available," he said.
"That's really all it means to us at an individual level. We might see some policy changes at a federal level."
Bogoch said there are still many unanswered questions about the variant, especially how transmissible it is compared to the other strains of the novel coronavirus.
"It's okay to be cautious. It's okay to be careful. But we don't actually know what the real impact of this variant is at this point in time."
The province reported more than 2,100 COVID-19 cases on both Friday and Saturday, with 81 new deaths over that 48-hour period.