By The Canadian Press
PAUINGASSI FIRST NATION, MAN. — A northern Manitoba First Nation was waiting for confirmation Sunday from the National Microbiology Lab on whether multiple COVID-19 cases in the community are a contagious variant first discovered in the U.K.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a news release late Saturday that public health officials found seven probable cases of the contagious variant of COVID-19 in Pauingassi First Nation.
The release said the samples were screened at the Cadham Provincial Lab and have since been sent to the national lab in Winnipeg for genomic sequencing, which will confirm whether or they are cases of the British variant.
“This is clearly a very serious situation that continues to evolve and change,” Pauingassi Chief Roddy Owens said in the release.
A spokeswoman for the assembly said Sunday that there had been no further word from the national lab about the tests.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, the team lead for the First Nation Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team, said the seven people have been isolating since they first received their initial COVID-19 results, and have been notified about the probable variant presence.
“Aggressive public health actions targeted at identifying any further contacts to these cases and ensuring they are tested and are isolating according to public health requirements will help contain the spread of this possible variant of concern,” Anderson stated in Saturday’s release.
All 10 provinces in Canada have now identified cases of the U.K.-based variant of the novel coronavirus.
U.K. government scientific advisers say the COVID-19 variant now predominant in that country may be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous variants.
Members of the Armed Forces were deployed to Pauingassi a week ago after COVID-19 cases there spiked to help with logistical support, transportation of goods and medical supplies, and wellness checks.
“These presumptive cases are extremely alarming and will be treated as positive unless confirmed otherwise by the National Microbiology Laboratory, after genetic sequencing, in the coming days,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said in a tweet late Saturday.
Miller said his department and the military will continue to work with Chief Owens and Pauingassi’s council to assist with public health measures, and in any other way.
Manitoba began relaxing some of its public health restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 on Friday, but Pauingassi has been under strict Public Health Orders since February 2 and remains so.
Residents are required to stay at home except for essential purposes.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas praised local leadership as they continue to face challenges from the pandemic.
“It takes great strength and courage in the face of COVID-19 to continue to remain calm and support one’s Nation and each other as they deal with a difficult and evolving situation,” Dumas said in the release.