Alberta detects first cases of Brazil variant, prepares to expand vaccine eligibility

The two cases of the P.1 strain have been linked to travel and are both located in the Calgary zone, said Hinshaw

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Alberta has detected its first two cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant that was identified in Brazil — P.1 — on Sunday, as the province prepares to once again expand vaccine eligibility.

The two cases of the P.1 strain have been linked to travel and are both in the Calgary zone, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said on her Twitter account Sunday. The two people are already isolating and their close contacts are being offered testing twice.

This is the third variant strain to be detected in Alberta, though P.1 has also been located in other provinces, including Ontario and B.C.

“I know any new variant cases can create anxiety but remember we are working hard to prevent their spread. These variants are spread by close contact, and measures that protect you from other strains — distancing, masking, washing hands — will also protect you from this variant,” Hinshaw said on Twitter.

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The province also reported another 63 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain that was first identified in the United Kingdom and one case of the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa. On Saturday, Alberta logged a record 70 new variant cases, all of which were the U.K. strain.

Alberta has now seen 920 cases of variants: 902 of B.1.1.7, 16 of the B.1.351 variant and two of the P.1 strain. Forty-two per cent of those cases are in the Alberta Health Services Edmonton zone, with another 36 per cent in the Calgary zone.

The variants are of concern because they are more contagious than the original strain and can, therefore, spread more efficiently.

“We still need each other to protect our communities, so let’s all please keep making safe choices, following the health measures in place and preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Hinshaw said.

An Alberta Health spokeswoman said all positive COVID-19 cases are sent for genome sequencing, which takes additional time, meaning new variant cases represent infections already reported on previous days.

“Provincially, we are currently averaging between 30 and 40 cases a day. This is growing, but not exponentially,” Sherene Khaw said Saturday.

Alberta reported 388 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The cases come from 8,343 completed tests, for a positivity rate of about 4.7 per cent. Provincewide, there are now 4,697 active cases.

There are 248 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in hospital, including 38 in intensive-care units. Another six deaths were reported on Sunday, bringing Alberta’s fatality toll to 1,946.

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Vaccine eligibility expands for Pfizer, Moderna, as province’s AstraZeneca supply runs low

Eligibility for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is expanding Monday to include Albertans born between 1947 and 1956, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals born 1971 or earlier, no matter where they live. As well, staff and residents of licensed seniors supportive-living facilities who were left out of the first phase will be eligible.

Alberta Health Services’ online booking tool and Health Link at 811 will open by birth year, one year added each following day for those newly eligible, starting Monday with those born in 1947 and Indigenous individuals born in 1962.

However, those living on-reserve or on-settlement can book through their local clinic, and AHS will reach out directly to the remaining staff and residents of licensed seniors supportive-living centres.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said in a statement on Friday that the more people who step forward for vaccination when it’s their turn, the faster Alberta will reduce the spread of the virus and can return to various activities.

“Momentum is building in Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan, and we are well on our way to delivering on our commitment to provide a first dose to every adult who wants one by the end of June,” said Shandro.

Alberta has administered 357,983 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. There are 91,538 people who have received their first and second shots.

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AHS announced Saturday it would not expand eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine due to limited supply. Online bookings closed Sunday afternoon, though 811 remains open until supply is fully depleted.

The province received an initial shipment of 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, allowing some Albertans born in 1957 and earlier the opportunity to book shots. Additional doses of AstraZeneca are expected to arrive in Alberta in the spring.

More than 53,000 eligible people had booked appointments for the AstraZeneca shot by Sunday morning, and AHS had already administered more than 14,000.

— With files from Jason Herring

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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