A Canadian province has curbed an outbreak of the P.1 coronavirus variant that is believed to have originated in Brazil through a combination of targeted vaccinations and physical distancing rules, measures which health experts say may offer lessons to other jurisdictions dealing with the rise in variant cases.
Experts said British Columbia’s strategy focused in part on traditional methods of treating Covid-19, such as banning indoor meals and placing additional limits on fitness activities inside.
” I think that [British Columbia] does a very good job of combining effective non-pharmaceutical interventions with the immunization strategy of getting as many people vaccinated as possible, ”said Dr. James Lawler, infectious disease physician and co-director of the Global Center for Health Security at the ‘University. from Nebraska Medical Center. “This is an important lesson that shows that the tools we already have… also work against P.1 and even some of the more disturbing variants.”
Variant P.1 is a strain of the Covid-19 virus that is estimated to be up to 2.2 times more contagious and up to 61% more capable of re-infecting people compared to previous versions of the coronavirus, according to studies in Brazil . P.1 is believed to be a major factor behind the surge in Covid-19 cases in Brazil earlier this year and, more recently, in South America, making many young people seriously ill.
British Columbia first reported 11 cases of P.1 at the end of February, a number that climbed to 1,510 in early April. There are currently a total of 2,063 cumulative P.1 cases recorded in the province, although researchers say this is likely a significant undercoverage as not all positive Covid-19 cases not undergo complete genome sequencing.
British Columbia authorities closed the popular Whistler Blackcomb ski resort at the end of March after a sharp rise in reported cases of Covid-19, many of which have been identified as the P.1 variant. The province later blanketed the region with vaccines in a five-day blitz that made vaccines available to any adult resident, giving younger people vaccine eligibility much sooner than their peers in the world. other parts of British Columbia.
Like other parts of Canada, British Columbia is delaying second doses of Covid-19 vaccines to provide a first dose of vaccine to as many people as possible. Scientists have found that the strategy of giving a vaccine to reach more people, adopted this year in the UK, can help prevent deaths and hospitalizations.
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Other public health measures in British Columbia included a ban on indoor eating from the end of March and restrictions on recreational travel in the three main regions of the province announced in late April.
Dr Althea Hayden, medical officer of health for Vancouver Coastal Health, which provides health care in and around Vancouver, including Whistler, said the imposition of travel limits sent an important signal for people when the third wave hit.
“When there is a change in health orders, it can cause people to change their behavior,” she says.
Across the province, new cases of Covid-19 are down by about 40% from their peak in mid-April.
Recently reported Covid-19 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region, where many variant P.1 cases have been concentrated, peaked at around 194 cases per 100,000 people in the week ended April 3 before to drop to about half that level three weeks later.
Cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health area “have plummeted and plummeted and plummeted,” said Sarah Otto, an expert in mathematical modeling and evolutionary biology at the University of British Columbia. “This is good news because it means that we are not seeing the proliferation of P.1 so much that it causes a major spike in cases.”
She said British Columbia also has better genomic surveillance than many jurisdictions, although it does not make all of this information public, which has likely helped officials design public health interventions such as targeting. hot spots for vaccination.
Scientists are using a polymerase chain reaction test, or PCR, to screen samples of the Covid-19 virus for common genetic mutations that are found in variants of concern. British Columbia confirmed these results by whole genome sequencing. But the province’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry, said last month the effort would be redirected to more systematic sampling of all strains.
Dr Henry said British Columbia does more genomic sequencing than most countries in the world, which is one of the reasons it was able to identify so many cases of P.1 in the first place.
Yet even though British Columbia appears to have taken control of the spread of Covid-19 and variant P.1 in recent weeks, the neighboring province of Alberta is in trouble. The seven-day average of reported Covid-19 cases in Alberta has nearly doubled in the past month and reached its highest level on May 6 since the start of the pandemic.
Alberta officials last week announced plans to close patios, stop indoor fitness activities and switch students to online learning, in addition to additional restrictions in high workload areas. The province estimates that about 45% of active Covid-19 cases involve variants of concern and, as of May 9, had identified 2,155 cumulative cases of P.1, or more than British Columbia.
Alberta has announced tighter restrictions, which “are absolutely necessary if we are to reduce community transmission and prevent cases from spiraling out of control,” the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said last week. .
—Vipal Monga contributed to this article.
Write to Kim Mackrael at [email protected]
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