By Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press
A contagious variant of COVID-19 has now made its way to all 10 provinces in Canada, officials announced Saturday as the nation’s top doctor warned yet again of the dangers of lifting public health restrictions at this stage of the pandemic.
Prince Edward Island confirmed its first case of the variant that originated in the United Kingdom on Saturday in a patient who was first diagnosed on Feb. 4 and has a history of international travel.
“We’ve been bracing for this reality. This news is not unexpected. And in fact we are the last province to record a case of the U.K. variant,” Premier Dennis King said.
He noted that this case is one of only two that are active in the province.
“This is a great reminder for us not to take our fortunate and unique P.E.I. situation for granted. As we have seen in other provinces, things can change quickly. To keep doing the things we have been doing is of utmost importance,” King said, echoing advice long offered by Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.
She’s been urging the provinces for weeks to keep strong public health restrictions in place, even as the spread of COVID-19 has slowed across the country.
She repeated that message in a written statement Saturday, citing the presence of variants of concern — the one that was first detected in the U.K., as well as others first found in Brazil and South Africa.
“We need to maintain the strictest vigilance in our public health measures and individual practices,” Tam said. “This will help to prevent these variants from reaccelerating the epidemic and making it much more difficult to control.”
Even so, Manitoba headed into its first weekend of relaxed public health orders after lifting a number of restrictions on Friday.
Officials there announced Saturday that there was a trend of “concerning case numbers” in the northern community of Cross Lake First Nation, prompting a new public health order for residents to stay in their homes or immediately adjacent areas.
A statement posted Friday on the community’s website said there were 45 active cases there, including 15 involving children.
Manitoba logged 99 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, as well as one added death.
Ontario was also gearing up to reopen parts of its economy following a stay-at-home order that was put in place in January.
Twenty-seven public health units will re-enter the province’s tiered, colour-coded system of restrictions on Tuesday, with just Niagara Region entering the grey “lockdown” classification which allows businesses to open at 25 per cent capacity.
The rest of the regions fall elsewhere along the scale that moves from red — the second strictest level behind the grey — through green, with lighter restrictions on businesses and gatherings at each stage.
Only Toronto, Peel and York regions will remain under the stay-at-home order in the coming week.
The province counted 1,300 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, as well as 19 more deaths linked to the virus. It identified 22 more cases of the variant first found in the U.K., for a total of 297.
Quebec, meanwhile, reported 1,049 new cases of the virus, and its death toll rose by 33.
Farther east, New Brunswick officials counted 16 new cases of COVID-19, while those in Nova Scotia added two.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 26 more cases of the virus following a recent surge of infections in the St. John’s region. That sudden spike prompted the cancellation of in-person voting in the province’s general election hours before voters wer slated to go to the polls.
Public health officials also announced tighter testing and self-isolation protocols for rotational workers coming in and out of the province in a bid to bring case numbers back under control.
To the west, Saskatchewan reported 244 new cases of COVID-19 and four added deaths.
Alberta logged 305 new infections and 15 associated deaths in the past 24 hours. And Nunavut reported five new cases in the territory’s only active COVID-19 outbreak, in the remote community of Arviat.
There have been 264 cases of the novel coronavirus in the region since it counted its first case in November, and nine were active on Saturday.